Let’s Talk Conference | 20 – 22 April 2023 | Speakers and Contributors Biographies

Conversations about the Global Ethnic Majority within (or outside) the cultural sector aren’t happening enough. The Let’s Talk Conference will address the imbalance by exploring key topics through conversations with artists and communities. Panya Banjoko, Joon Lynn Goh and Lara Ratnaraja will lead conversations exploring the notion of space, connections, and the need for public discourse to be led by, with, and for the Global Ethnic Majority. Join us for three days full of provocation, conversation, and inspiring dialogue.

Read more about the speakers and contributors to the conference below.

Speakers and Contributors Biographies

  • Abíọ́dún ‘Abbey’ Abdul is a fascinating poet whose own life has been thoroughly international: before settling in Nottingham she lived in Nigeria, Japan, and Scotland. She is a writer, teacher and knowledge seeker who won the UNESCO Cities of Literature Global Poetry Slam in 2022.

  • Vicky Alvarez is a trader and Chair of Seven Sisters Traders Market Association / Wards Corner Community Benefit Society, founded in 2022 by a coalition of grassroots groups and campaigning organisations in Tottenham who have been fighting to save the Seven Sisters Indoor Market and historic Ward Buildings from demolition for 20 years.  The Wards Corner Community Plan proposes a community-led refurbishment of this site to create a new cultural and social hub for everyone.

  • Panya Banjoko is a published poet and founder of Nottingham Black Archive. Since 2011 she has directed the archive on several pioneering projects, including bringing to the fore the narratives of Black writers and community activists in Nottingham since the 1950s. As poet, her poems feature in numerous collections, anthologies, and exhibitions.

  • Pawlet Brookes MBE is the founder, CEO and artistic director of Serendipity – Institute for Black Arts and Heritage.  An experienced and highly respected senior leader and producer, Brookes has been at the forefront of the development of Black arts in the UK since she was appointed Marketing Manager at the Nia Centre (Manchester) in the 90s, then Artistic Director of Peepul Centre (Leicester) and ultimately Chief Executive of Rich Mix (London). Brookes has been the Arts Council assessor for a number of Black arts capital projects, such as Bernie Grant Arts Centre (London) and National Centre for Carnival Arts (Luton).  She has over 30 years’ experience as a cultural leader with expertise in partnership building, international programming and cultural diversity.  She is the trailblazer behind several initiatives with arts and cultural organisations both in the UK and internationally.

  • Laura Decorum is a bi-racial multi disciplinary painter who lives and paints in and around Nottingham and surrounding areas. Laura has been a practising artist for as long as she can remember. She spent her childhood living in London and Oxfordshire before making her roots in Nottingham. Laura attended Nottingham Trent University and left to pursue a career in working within the care sector whilst facepainting for events and festivals. In 2014 Laura decided that painting faces wasn’t enough creativity for her, so spent as much time as she could diversifying her practise, starting to paint murals and graffiti in both care homes and derelict houses and live paintings for events in Nottingham, London and Birmingham.

  • Herbert Fadriquela is the Managing Director of Bahay Kubo Housing Association, a community social enterprise and the only Filipino housing association of its kind in the UK and Europe. Bahay Kubo aims to address the pressing issues and emerging needs of the Filipino and wider migrant community in Greater London area through the provision of quality, affordable accommodation, housing services, management and advocacy.

  • Born in Mosul, Iraq, Rabab Ghazoul is an artist, curator, and founder/director of Cardiff-based arts organisation gentle/radical, whose work meets at the intersections of cultural praxis, social justice, radical spirituality, and neighbourhood renewal. Holding continual enquiry into how we model decolonial and non-extractive forms of cultural engagement, gentle/radical works through trajectories of slowness, and the romance of dreamful labour, to place culture and the arts in the service of justice in the 21st century.

  • Joon-Lynn Goh organises with art and community infrastructures to nurture a collective imagination and capacity to live without borders. She embraces the practice of organising as science-fiction, in which migrant and global majority communities are protagonists of change, and where infrastructure, organisation and business are creative experiments in stewardship and worldbuilding. Joon-Lynn is a founding organiser of migrant-led design agency Migrants in Culture; co-founding director of cancer-patient led business Sex With Cancer; and a GLA Civic Futures Fellow 2021-22. Joon-Lynn declined a 2019 MBE for Services to Equality for organising a Syrian refugee resettlement programme with Bristol City Council and Citizens UK (2014-2017).

  • Elizabeth Zeddie Lawal is a change maker, producer, facilitator and host. A firm believer in the power of creativity, tech, innovation, Doughnut Economics and social good! Since graduating from the University of Birmingham in drama and theatre arts in 2016, she has been committed to cultural inclusion, equity, innovation, transformational leadership and most importantly care. She is a strong advocate for social mobility, empowering leaders and communities to thrive whilst using creativity as a mirror to society. Elizabeth is recognised for Birmingham Mail 30 under 30, The Stage 100 for the More Than A Moment: Action With & For Black Creatives and is currently a finalist for the woman of the year 2022.

  • Lateesha Johnson is a Birmingham based freelance producer who is passionate about art, wellbeing, community and accessibility. She engages communities that are often overlook and underrepresented in the arts and creative activities for the benefit of mental health. Having studied English literature and creative writing, she started Black Girls Bookshelf to amplify and celebrate diverse stories in literature that reflect the world we live in today. When she’s not trying to make the world a better place through art, she is a novice yoga and meditation teacher.

  • Nonhlanhla Makuyana (they/them) is a multidisciplinary artist, organiser and educator. Their work focuses on the research and archiving of economic liberatory practices that exist within Black queer communities, seeking to shift power and resources towards these communities. Heavily inspired by the Black Feminist tradition, they design and deliver experiential workshops to explore the felt and lived legacies of the enslavement of Black people. They do this in partnerships with Black grassroots groups such as the Black Feminist Reading Group. and Don’t Tell The Village Elders

  • Navkiran Kaur Mann is a spoken word poet and writer based in Coventry.  She is committed to using her writing and spoken word to speak into  gender equality, the unsilencing of South Asian voices, mental health and faith. She has written for the Royal Shakespeare Company who’ve commissioned her writing responding to the city as a canvas and her experiences as a South Asian woman and faith for the UK2021’s production: “Faith”. She has also written and performed as part of “City Voices” at Theatre Absolute which is a collective of diverse Coventry poets and writers responding to provocations about Coventry and culture.

  • David McEwen is an architect and member of the Rode Housing Co-operative, which comprises of architects, housing professionals and community organisers that believe that housing is a public right, and that housing stability should not be bought at the expense of others. Rode members have supported local organisations and causes in Tottenham and North London including the Wards Corner Community Plan in Seven Sisters to save the ‘Latin Village’ market. This work, among other projects they have completed, advocates for locally led development, community management and ownership

  • Sharon Monteith is Distinguished Professor of American Literature and Cultural History in the School of Arts and Humanities. Her research has been supported by the Leverhulme Trust in the form of a Major Research Fellowship, the British Academy and the Arts and Humanities Research Council in the UK, and in the US by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Center for Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi. In 2022, her book SNCC’s Stories: The African American Freedom Movement in the Civil Rights South won the C. Hugh Holman Book Award presented by the US-based Society for the Study of Southern Literature (SSSL) and the American Studies Network Book Prize awarded by the European Association of American Studies (EAAS).

  • Lara Ratnaraja is a Cultural Consultant who specialises in diversity, innovation, leadership, collaboration, and cultural policy implementation within HE, cultural and digital sectors. She co-created the Hello Culture event series https://www.hello-culture.co.uk/  (how cultural and digital technology intersects), and has developed, managed, and delivered successful ERDF, ESF, ACE, AHRC bids, and programmes working within the public sector, HE and he commercial sector. She works or has worked with the University of Birmingham, Coventry University, Birmingham City University STEAMhouse and University of Salford delivering and developing projects on diversity, digital engagement and research collaborations between arts, HEIs and SMEs.

    Other consultancy clients include Southbank, OPUS, mac, Arts Council Collection, National Theatre Wales, the ICO, CAN, Warwick Arts Centre, Jerwood Arts, FACT and Artangel and the Fifth Sector where she has worked on a number of  projects including devising governance arrangements for a new, more diverse, and inclusive Cultural Consortium for Manchester.

    With Helga Henry, she co-produces a series of leadership programmes:  RE:Present, ASTONish,  which supported the development of cultural leaders from diverse backgrounds so that the cultural ecology of Birmingham,  better reflects its changing demographic; AD:Vantage which  placed the vantage point of d/Deaf, neurodivergent and disabled creative practitioners at the heart of leadership and EmPOWer for OPUS,  that supported diverse Neighbourhood Producers who were part the  Commonwealth Games Festival Sites.

    Lara is on the board of Derby Theatre, Vivid Projects and Coventry Biennial and the Advisory Group for SHOUT Festival.  She is on the UK Council for Creative UK and the Equality Monitoring Group for Arts Council Wales.

  • Saima Razzaq is a British political activist and educator, co-chair of SEEDS (Supporting the Education of Equality in Schools) and Head of Diversity and Inclusion for Birmingham Pride. Razzaq actively campaigns for LGBT inclusive education in schools and was the first Muslim woman to lead a Pride parade in Britain.

  • Manjit Sahota is the co-founder of Poets Against Racism and a local Nottingham poet who has performed in number of venues in Nottingham and around the country since 2016.

    Manjit has delivered workshops for a number of schools and local organisations in Nottingham, sharing his spoken word poetry to encourage others to write, read and perform poetry.

    He has delivered a number of projects for the National Literacy Trust and has worked for the Nottingham Poetry Festival 2020

    Manjit formed PAR in 2016 to rally poets, spoken word artist and rappers to use their poetry to challenge the rise in racism and spread the word of unity, humanity and Love

    ‘Poetry for me is the memory of our history, struggle and resistance’   Manjit

  • Nicola Singh is a performance artist and experimental vocalist, based in West Yorkshire. She focuses on embodied and ritual practice, often using South Asian philosophies to explore notions and experiences of collective healing, liberation and decolonisation. Nicola is an organiser with Migrants in Culture, a migrant-led design agency made up of artists, designers, researchers and organisers with experiences of migration, diaspora and racialisation. Our vision is to build our radical imagination and capacity to live without borders, and our mission is to design by any creative medium necessary.

  • Born in Birmingham, where she lives and works Marlene Smith’s practice extends to curating, research and writing. She is Associate Artist at Modern Art Oxford and was  an Associate at Making Histories Visible from 2017 – 2021. From 2015-2017 She was UK Research Manager for the AHRC funded Black Artists & Modernism project. In 2014 she launched The Room Next To Mine an ongoing series of study days, discursive and curatorial projects. In 2012 she organised and co-convened the conference Reframing The Moment: legacies of the 1982 Blk Art Group conference initiated by the Blk Art Group Research Project set up with Keith Piper and Claudette Johnson in 2011. She was a member of the Blk Art Group from 1982-1984.

    Recent exhibitions include:

    2022 Portals, Eastside Projects, Birmingham

    2021 Cut & Mix, New Art Exchange, Nottingham

    2019 Get Up Stand Up: Generations of Black Creativity, Somerset House

    2016-17 The Place Is Here: The Work Of Black Artists in 1980s Britain

    Her work is in the collections of Wolverhampton Art Gallery and Sheffield Museums.

  • Amahra Spence is an artist, justice designer and spatial practitioner who works for transformation, where culture, community development and social justice align. Amahra is co-founder of MAIA, a Black-led arts and social justice organisation, working at the neighbourhood-scale globally, from Birmingham; and organiser of The Black Land & Spatial Justice Project, a platform to amplify the wisdoms, creations and possibilities from the Black imagination for land and spatial justice. Amahra brings a critical analysis of systemic injustice and power, committing to infrastructure building, resource redistribution and platforming radical imagination.

  • Cara Thompson is a writer, performer and artivist based in Nottingham, UK. A proud descendant of Jamaican migrants who came to Britain as part of the pioneering ‘Windrush generation’, Cara’s work explores the richness and complexities of her Caribbean-British heritage while inviting audiences to unpack weighty subjects such as social activism and racial trauma.

  • Phill Tulba is Director of Community Wealth Building at The Ubele Initiative, an African diaspora led, infrastructure plus organisation, that believes in empowering Black and minoritised communities in the UK to act as catalysts for social and economic change. The Ubele Initiative was appointed by the GLA in 2020 as the Black and minoritised community infrastructure body for London and is leading on the establishment of Black and minoritised national strategic alliance for community wealth building. The Ubele Initiative acted to incubate Gida Housing Co-op, and brought together various community groups to work together to address the housing needs of their communities.

  • Morag Williams is a painter and illustrator based in Nottingham. After studying fine art in Moscow, she moved to Nottingham Trent for further studies. Her paintings explore our relationship and ever growing footprint on the natural world.