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It was a Roadside Picnic /
Beyond Black Orientalism

The World as a futuristic re-imagination, existing in Time and Zones that Spring from and Move in Breath (2021).

This multiplayer virtual world focuses on co-presence as horizons shift and universes overlay each other. It is a world in constant transformation, animating in and out it’s artist-parts in a stitch across time and zones, a rhythmic circular narrative, a non sequential creation - a Spivakian Worlding.


It is built on an ancient fractal carved into the desert sand, rhythmically repeating beyond the confines of this world. In mathematics, fractals are complex patterns of geometric shapes that are self-similar on every scale. These were computed by the people of the early Indus Valley using tablets covered in a layer of sawdust or sand, slowly moving their fingers to carve and feel the math in it’s impermanence. 


The world centers on a pavilion built around the principles of vāstu śāstra. A traditional system of architecture originating in India, in it, architectural constructions are living organisms and they behave like human beings. Like the living beings, they vibrate and pulsate; they breathe.It houses a breathing device whose pulsating rhythm will reset your body to a state of calm. Slower rhythms, slower breathing, slower theta time - a state of being rather than thinking.


It works like a dance, synchronizing us to the rhythm of the earth’s heartbeat, placing us in the breath of the sand and under the rotating orbits of the cosmos as we breathe in and out. 


Rhythm does not privilege singular ways of being but rather insists, in advance, that collaborative engagement is necessary to who and what we are. As we groove- even if alone- we collaborate with tunes, poetics, and styles, fusing ostensible disconnect between science (sound vibrations, physiological movements, flesh and blood) and narrative (musical score, lyric, cultural text). Rhythm is conceptualized as one way to invite collaborative worlding; rhythm lays bare not only emotions and imaginations but also their scientific underpinnings. 


Sylvia Wynter, ‘Jonkonnu in Jamaica’


This world is shaped in layers of atmosphere, time and space, influenced by the gaze of new worlders and the heritage of many cultures and it invites and provides other realities and realities-dressing to the night as we listen to the singing Kinnari, read dreams in sand, dance with roots, and the pulse of myths.


This virtual world is from the imaginary of Salma Noor joined by artists Megan Broadmeadow (WLS/UK), Brandon Covington Sam-Sumana (USA), Nicholas Delap (ENG), Ben Hall (ENG/SCO), Nayu Kim (KOR), Kinnari Saraiya (IND). It is framed and held in love and longing by curators Amrita Dhallu (IND/UK), Kinnari Saraiya (IND) and Helen Starr (TT).

Enter and Breathe here:


It was a Roadside Picnic at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art

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Library/Archive, Still from DAAD Futurism World

a story

On July 18 1324, Mansa Musa, the Islamic ruler of the west African empire of Mali, arrived on horseback in Cairo, trailing gold dust. For more than 3,000 miles his enormous entourage had trudged across the Sahel. The ruler, on pilgrimage in Mecca, had made this important stop to build alliances with the region’s ruling Mameluke sultans, in order to break the chokehold on Malian trade by the Muslim overlords of the Maghreb. The goal of Musa’s trip east was principally to secure new diplomatic alliances. He could not have envisioned the ripple effect his unparalleled extravagance would have on the course of human history over the next six centuries. This trip across the Sahel would set in motion a series of events that ultimately stitched together the entire globe.

The villagers gathered around in the Banyan Tree  to listen to tales from far away. The carved wooden stool scraped the packed earth as Storyteller sat and flexed her worn sandalled feet. The clear blue sky of the desert washed at the turmeric stained rocks that encircled the Hidden Valley of Wynter Shoals - an undoing  space between land and sea, between Indigenous land and the Black Atlantic. The young ones bounced among the crowd, chirping like a pandemonium of parrots, awaiting the next spell to pour out of the storyteller’s mouth. The old ones waited patiently with the stillness of time.


Encapsulated by the golden horological object within the Daad Futurism world, the rotating hybrid is a fusion of the everyday E African women’s eyeliner pot and the description of the Alien Empty found in the novel Roadside Picnic by Soviet-Russian authors Arkady and Boris Strugatsky.  It was - an object that can be empty and full at the same time. It rethinks time as a circular construct rather than the more widely understood notion of  linear time, that was programmed into Global North by notions such as Modern Capitalism and Materialism. 


This object of Abeyance calls for, it sings for … an undoing.

The Storyteller spun her tales. She spoke so well that she could never have taught any mortal, for her stories were filled with a power that touched the very heart of a devotee. And in the Storyteller’s tales this world became another world and she, an ethereal goddess, with golden arms and legs, with breasts the size of mountains and with eyes like thunderbolts. The world shook as she danced and, whether from shock or delight, the people fell down and touched the ground.


Kali looked at them and she laughed. 'Do you not see the light? Do you not hear the sounds of creation? The oceans rise and fall. The sun comes up and goes down. Does the earth tremble beneath your feet? Has it ever happened to you to sleep, and then awake again? Do you not hear the birds sing, or the grass grow, or the waves of the ocean beat against the shores? And does not this all exist whether I dance or not? What need do I have of any dance? The dancing of the moon and the stars and the sun, the singing of the birds, the talking of the trees and the flowers, the turning of the earth and the rolling of the seas – all this is dancing. Dance for me and you will do so much more than just play.' 


How could they not hear the music of creation? The sky and the earth and the stars, the clouds and the wind, the mountains and the rivers – they existed even when they were not being spoken into being. The fact that all this existed without Kali's dance, but was truly more wonderful when she danced, did not matter to Kali. She knew it all too well. All she asked of the maharishis was to live with her in the dance. 


As a little girl, she dreamt of growing up to be a कथाकार or Storyteller, like a folktale wise woman who could create magical worlds. She saw herself sitting under a Banyan tree, with the simplest thought to escape the world they had created for her, carving deep characters that shone as polished gold as she spoke, glittering in the high sun of noon. In her world, she’d wander around, singing to herself and dancing her heart out. Here, she was protected. 


The Storyteller looked up at the roots hanging from the Banyan tree and began by describing her home in the desert of the Sahel. Where her people honoured the healing trees of Frankincense and Myrrh with a loving pastoral of camels and goats.  


Roaming among the ancient termite-domed tombs, patched with red like blood, she sang of love:


did that true meeting

seem a vision to them

brought by love's plight

or its mirage

from time to time

as if suddenly waking

out of a dream

did their speech

desiring utterance

pass from a mouth

if just a howl

Has love been blood-written (excerpt) by Jacayl Dhiig ma lagu Qoray(1970s)


The Storyteller sits in the mountains of Macqueripe. Bright yellow Poui trees dot the verdant green hillside!  Clear rivers and warm seas and black lakes of pitch, she watches as the saffron sandstorm fills the skies of Ierie - The Land of the Hummingbird. Golden sand clouds with hints of myrrh, seeds and nutrients and desert homes caress her face. She smiles at the healing nutrients which will tender the roots of her plants and trees and bring rich life to the nutrient poor soil of the Amazon.  Terra Preta - the Black Gold of her Carib people. There will be another coming seeking Yellow Gold- heart stopping and brutal. The spectral Apostles degodded of nature will arrive on steeds of pestilence and death like the Seven Horsemen of the Apocalypse. 

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The haunted organ archives this horror.  Among moving roots, there was life. She looked down ather splayed, coarse feet resting in the clear water of the steaming river. In a trance-like state, she felt the earth move, she saw the sand beneath her stir, higher and higher. Her hair caught the wind and she said ‘the storm is coming’. 


She had seen this before so she closed her eyes, took a deep breath and began chanting ‘breathe in…2…3…4, hold…2…3…4…, out…2…3…4’ over and over, repeatedly until there was calm again. They were in sync with her, breathing with her, they fell in love with her capturing personality. 

She crossed into another world, a new world. She said that this world was different, here they valued not the wise old ancient stories and people, here they believed in progress. She didn’t belong here, but she went on a journey through it and took the others with her. Their journey took them to a different time period, a different race of humans. Here, they weren’t Homo Narrans. 


Her throat hurt, her eyes watered. She wanted to go home, back to her village. She felt as if she had been away from her family for a very long time. She remembered her father who she’d play chaturanga with, her grandmother who would sit out on the veranda next to the rangoli, crushing chilli peppers, sugar and tragacanth with her gentle hands on the Sil Batta after the sun set and the moon shone on her storytelling. 


All those sights and sounds and scents would return to her as she’s transported into a memory, it wasn’t her memory but somehow she knew it too well. ‘Almost 750 varshas (years) ago’, she says, ‘there lived a poet par excellence called Swami Vedanta Desika. He composed two verses with each verse consisting of 32 aksharas (letters) and placed the verses against each other on a Chaturanga board, with one akshara on each square. Every time he strategically and rhythmically moved each piece around, cathecting the board, he sang a new poem into being.’ 

The poem is the trace of a bloodless war between two, as was the war between the worldviews of Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi. Their strategic movements, towards an Indian dream, independent for one and in shackles for the other, are traced in chilli powder and charcoal, singing their own poem of colonial rule. It was they who composed their own songs to define their defeat. ‘Although independent, but at what cost?’, she asks as she feels the scar of the war her ancestors fought - on her body.


She remembers the lives of people living in a colony that is their world, but, simultaneously, another. The worlds that they make from their own and the worlds that were made from theirs. ‘Who are you when your own world is framed within the world of another? This is Worlding’, she says as she remembers the words of Gayatri Chakravarty Spivak. 


The sun had moved along its usual path, little by little with every breath she took, every word she animated to life for her listeners. She was determined to return home but how could she? She had a world to explore - for they’d paid 80 annas for her to sculpt with her words. 


Her throat thrummed with cords plucked deep as the Storyteller sang the world of old Goguryeo into being. With hands trembling like belled rattles, she hummed of this land’s ancestors, gods and nature spirits. The villagers' eyes startled at the storied tears of the gods which fell from the sky like the manna in the Book of Exodus. And softly muffled the land in a silence, like a sacred emptiness.  But, while the manna they knew tasted like honeyed wafer, this manna burnt the tongue like harsh cold metal left out in the cold.


This is land of beribboned trees and the mechanised well into which she climbed. Down into the under realm of Shamans, where she took the form of a dung beetle. Crawling through the cave of the other world, she hears a voice in a strange, unknown language. She doesn’t react, she sits with the unknowability and the unspeakability of this sound and then asks the villagers to follow the echo.


The sounds follow, take shape. Shadows appear. And as they form they reveal secrets that are beyond language. Languages as we know them. But more than that, these were once passed on as shared memories and experiences. They tell of time-long migrations, ancient trees, a holy land that may have been land once covered by trees. They have long forgotten. Now the people carry them with them as they build new homes. Their tongues pass the stories along to their children, who pass them on. They pass the stories on to their children and so on. 

The Storyteller tells of the survivors of the Cloud Warriors who fled the death of an Incan invasion. The Inca named them Chachapoya but they call themselves “the people''.Their white skin and flame-coloured hair was like nothing she had ever seen. Red, like the sacred uruku, added to constantly bubbling pots of meat. Added red to our brown-red skin as insect repellent - added to our cassava cassarepe. Our plant technology preserved/preserves our travelling meat and it's black boiled antiseptic liquid cures eye infections and ulcers.  The Cloud Warriors gifted us an arieto and bound us to them with our own kin-making ways. 


We dance/sing/draw of the Mage Gwydion who enchants the very trees to fight the hordes of Gog and Magog on a hill they call The Tor.  Full of cold white smoke and  pale verdegis, it is not the palatte of our tropical world.  I catch the alien words of a staccato language Bryn Celli Ddu, the Mound in the Dark Grove and glawio, dafnu, cawodi, llifo, hegarlaw, chwipio bwrw, tollti - all words for rain. 


They lived among us and when they died - we buried them in our tombs for our burial rituals were the same. We placed their precious possessions and shrouded bodies marked with pathways to the nether worlds, kneeling as we do with our own dead - in subservience to the Gateway of the Gods. And they left children among us who we called Shabene - those of the red and gold hair.


The bull of battle, the lord of the world.

Morawg and Morydd

Were made prosperous in pines.

Holly, it was tinted with green,

He was a hero.

The hawthorn, surrounded by prickles,

With pain at his hand.

The aspen-wood has been topped,

It was topped in battle.


The Battle of Goddeu from  The Book of Taliesin 14c


It wasn’t so much that the inhabitants of The Hidden Valley of Wynter Shoals couldn’t remember when the stones on the Banyan tree moved. Their memories of this valley had come and gone like ripples on a calm lake. They could recall details of a great wind which caused stones to dislodge and the earth to rise up to create the ancient ground on which the tomb was built. But even with such vivid memories of ancient greatness, they could only explain what they knew to be true by getting lost in her storytelling. 


She chanted her mantra ‘breathe in…2…3…4, hold…2…3…4, breathe out…2…3…4’ a few times, placed her things in a square piece of cloth and tied a tight knot, wore her wooden sandals and began to walk towards the door, into the storm. She’d spoken her story into being, out loud. In this act she’d broken the habit of forgetting who she is and is returning to who she is. She will never forget that voice again.

Written by Kinnari Saraiya and Helen Starr


Lead Artist: Salma Noor 
Breath Specialist: Dr. Ash Ranpura
Co-curators: Kinnari Saraiya and Helen Starr
Technical Strategist and Designer: Benjamin Hall 
Modelling: Harry Appleyard, Nick Delap & Benjamin Hall
Sound: Brandon Covington Sam Sumana
Producer: The Mechatronic Library & Salma Noor

Special Thanks to Sammie, Don & Benny from New Art City


Megan Broadmeadow
Nicholas Delap
Benjamin Hall
Nuka Nayu
Salma Noor
Kinnari Saraiya

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