Interview: 2016 Visionary Award Recipient Sabina England
On April 25, The St. Louis Visionary Awards will celebrate the passion, determination, and imagination of six local women who daily dive into the trenches to improve our city’s arts culture by stimulating artistic ability via education, philanthropy activism and public engagement.
The honorees selected were chosen by a committee of prominent professionals who include co-chairs Sara Burke and Kim Eberlein, as well as Adrienne Davis, Alison Ferring, Renee Franklin, Melissa Howe, Cynthia Prost, Marilyn Sheperd and Donna Wilkinson.
Check back each week as we dive deep with all six honorees.
This year’s Emerging Artist honoree is Sabina England, an internationally acclaimed performer whose work continues to bring down boundaries and challenge misconceptions and stereotypes. Deafness has not hindered England’s passion for creativity. In fact it has become a vital component of her work across several media platforms.
Born in Leeds, West Yorkshire, England, Sabina lived in Liverpool before moving to St. Louis to attend a distinguished school known worldwide for its excellent educational programs for deaf children. Since then, she has used St. Louis as her base of operations. She holds a BA in Theatre from the University of Missouri and received training at the London Film Academy.
Utilizing American Sign Language (ASL) she has traveled the world to perform her art. Her portfolio includes poetry, mime, theater, storytelling and dance. She also writes, directs and edits movies.
Her short films include “Seasons/ Mawsam” (2015), “Deaf Brown Gurl” (2014) and “Wedding Night” (2010). They have screened at the Toronto International Deaf Film and Arts Festival. India’s International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala, the Taqwacores exhibition in Paris and the EVA Gallery in Salzburg.
England’s prodigious theatre work includes “How the Rapist Was Born,” which was staged at the Soho Theatre and Tristan Bates Theatre in London and “Chess for Asian Punks, Greek Losers, and Dorks,” which played at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in London and the Corner Playhouse in Columbia, Missouri.
Published work includes “Deaf Performance Art, Sound, and Allah Earth” which appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Alt.Theatre Magazine as well as Amor Indocumentado which was selected in 2014’s Totally Radical Muslims! Zine #3. In 2012 she released “Urdustan: A Collection of Short Stories.”
In 2015 she unveiled Allah Earth: The Cycle of Life, her first solo performance art piece in Seattle. Locally she has performed at Midwest Mayhem, Venus Envy, Pride St. Louis and the St. Louis Fringe Festival.
England commented on her award, her inventive dynamism and how the arts have affected her life.
As we approach the Visionary Awards can you tell us how the arts have impacted your life?
Art is an important platform for me to assert my place in this world. Anybody can use music, art, poetry, video, to make themselves be seen and heard. Especially being a deaf brown South Asian immigrant woman, I feel that people like me are often ignored and dismissed. There’s nobody else like me involved in the arts scene. I find it very important to use my voice, create stories, share my vision, and help shape our future. Art is a liberating tool. My voice counts and my art matters.
Describe your creative process.
I write poems, plays and short stories. I enjoy shooting film and editing video. I love to perform, dance and move around. I do everything except make music because I’m profoundly deaf anyway! My mind is always buzzing with many ideas, aesthetics and stories. Because I can’t hear, I am very visual and I have millions of images racing through my mind. I’m always thinking about what project to do next. I usually work on my projects in the evenings when I come home from work. I try my best to write down everything if I get a new idea pop up in my mind while I’m working or even sleeping. I make it a point not to socialize with people too much, because I try to use my free time on my weekends to focus on my projects.
How can St. Louisans better champion the arts?
People in St. Louis County should come out and go to the city more to support the arts scene. We have the St Louis Fringe Festival, Indian Cultural Dance Festival, Deaf festival. We have many free art galleries that constantly change their exhibitions so there is always something new (and free!) to see. There are lots of poetry slams and concerts in the city. St. Louis has a big community of musicians, artists and writers with their own websites and large followings. It’s also important that people in St. Louis step out of their comfort zone and go support local artists and musicians from a different culture or community. We need to become more aware of each other and support each other, not compete against or tear each other down.
What made you want to become more deeply involved in our arts community?
As I’ve said, we need to support each other. I find that if I meet and become more acquainted with other artists, writers, performers and filmmakers in the community, I feel less alone and more encouraged, more motivated to keep working hard on my dreams. I feel inspired to keep creating and sharing my art with others. I also want to encourage the deaf community in St. Louis become more involved with the arts scene; I’ve been thinking of how to achieve that.
What can other artists and creative professionals in the region do to foster stimulation in the arts?
Let’s try to connect with each other not just in St. Louis, but also in Columbia, Kansas City, Metro East, and Illinois. It would be nice to have a statewide network of creative collaboration. I’ve seen a few artists coming down here from Chicago, Indianapolis and Kansas City to perform at the St. Louis Fringe Festival. St. Louis isn’t too far from Chicago or Kansas City. We should try to foster a group of St. Louis, Chicago and Kansas City artists to work together, exchange ideas and do group collaborations. I’ve found it very hard to find consistent talent in St Louis to work together for filmmaking projects. We should actively try to bring in more artists and creative professionals around the region to come into St Louis and contribute to our community, so that they can bring something back to their town from St. Louis. We should make people become aware of St. Louis.
How does this award reflect the work you did in 2015?
I wrote, performed and directed my first solo performance art show called “Allah Earth: The Cycle of Life.” I worked on the concept for about two years. In 2015, I was invited to perform in Seattle and I finally gave my first full show, performing, dancing and signing ASL poetry to classical Indian music that I couldn’t hear.
It was a successful solo performance and I was so proud and happy with myself. Also, I recently released my ASL poem video shot in India called “Deaf Brown Gurl,” which brought me a lot of good exposure, some interview requests and invitations to perform at other places. I also came back from Mexico City around New Year’s Day, where I shot a lot of film footage. This year, I will release my next ASL poem video with film footage of Mexico City.
For more information about Sabina England visit her website, sabinaengland.com