We unveil two new ‘My Normality’ commissions, both drawing on the artists’ experiences of racism.

Singer-songwriter Djana Gabrielle has written and recorded This is Our Battlefield, a song inspired by the death of George Floyd in the US. The song explores how, for people of colour, “the casual everyday racism we encounter is part of our normality”, and how this experience was exacerbated for Djana by an emotionally draining lockdown.

Photographer and writer Nikki Kilburn is interested in exploring “how identity and lived experience creates complex realities”. For My Normality, Nikki has created a collection of “five empowered portraits of womxn of colour with a lived experience of racialised trauma” accompanied by an audio narrative of their voices telling their stories, in order to show “how the lived experience of racialised trauma creates othering and stigma”.

Nikki Kilburn said: “It was really important for me to remain true to the identity and style of each womxn in their portrait and spoken word narrative. We worked together to co-create how we would capture their visual representation and narrative. Each portrait was carefully created based on how each womxn wanted to tell their story and my self-portrait transforms the dehumanising racism of white supremacy into an act of power. Whilst weaving the spoken narratives together I was mindful to stay true to each womxn’s individuality and elevate shared lived experience. The music, lyrics and my spoken word poem throughout the audio piece created a context for the stories to be knitted within. This process has been a beautiful, enriching healing experience for us all.”

Djana Gabrielle said: “This song was written in light of the events surrounding the murder of George Floyd. I was deeply affected by his death and the SMHAF commission actually gave me the opportunity to put pen to paper as I had kept these feelings inside for quite some time. So the lyrics came quite easily. They reflect my mental state at the time. I was discouraged and exhausted. I wondered if any meaningful change would ever come and if our worth would stop being intrinsically linked to the colour of our skin. I still wonder.”

Djana and Nikki are two of eight artists from across Scotland who have been commissioned to make work on the theme of ‘My Normality’ for this year’s Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival. Three films, by theatre-maker Jordy Deelight, spoken word performer Eilidh Morris, and choreographer Jack Webb, premiered together at the end of May. Further work by visual artist Iona Roberts, theatre-maker Isla Cowan and film-maker Bonnie MacRae will follow later in July and August. All eight commissions can be experienced online here on our website.

Andrew Eaton-Lewis, arts programme officer for the Mental Health Foundation, said: “We’re delighted to be sharing two more of our My Normality commissions. Djana and Nikki are very different artists united by a common experience, and since they completed their commissions at around the same time it seemed to make sense to premiere them together. The ‘normality’ of enduring racism throughout your life, and its impact on mental health, is an important subject for this festival to explore, and we are very grateful to Djana and Nikki for drawing on their lived experience to create such powerful new work.”

Follow the links to view projects by Djana Gabrielle and Nikki Kilburn, and further commissions from our My Normality project. 

Banner Image: Portrait of Shondra Riley by Nikki Kilburn