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As part of the Battersea Arts Centre’s ‘The Motherhood Project’ we hear the beautifully stilling, maternal voice of Sarah Niles in Gunk. Framed in a monochrome montage of the streets of London, her powerful monologue seems to stick to the zoomed in civilian faces that we trace. Her words spitting a universal plea to break out of our systemic environments, as well as a personal grilling of a mother to her son. Irenosen Okojie’s writing is full of humanity and employs powerful language of leadership. Which I guess all mothers are. Moreover, Akinola Davies Jr.’s directorial vision of the piece allows us to witness the embedded identity of community from a higher ground. Consequently, changing our perception of an innocent daily routine, to seeing the bigger picture of personal growth that grounds us all.
From market stalls to kids in pushchairs, the scenes are laced in everchanging faces. The action of living hums through the black and white picture, while Niles’s gritted diction intently focuses on the meaning in these people’s steps. We hear her talk of her ‘boy’, but we see a country. In the tight maternal bonds between mother and son there lies a whole existence, a choice of paths and a voice of guidance that we must all listen to. Niles’s slow and sincere delivery is a tough wake-up call highlighting the transition from child to man. Her tone radiates the internal struggles of motherhood; almost a last fighting breath to remind her flesh and blood to strive for a future. There is a sense of home in every word, and yet she warns us of the dangers of society outside.
Notable is the piece’s nuanced soundscape. We hear passing traffic and clocks ticking, but then droning alarms one might hear to evacuate. However, Davis Jr.’s choice of a cinematic, melancholic soundtrack fits us into the rhythm of the piece. The audio is perfectly married to the slow-motion shots of civilians, only to be broken by the occasional warped moving image, making us question our own perceptions on the connections we see. Additionally, the edited blocked out eyes of the people may have been for privacy reasons, but more artistically fixates this idea of universal blindness that we share in a constructed reality.
Here we have a story of raging adolescence is faced with the wise attack of a mother’s tongue. Gunk feels like the harsh reigns that a parent takes in steering a piece of themselves into the next generation. Evoking a wariness of what seems to be innocent surroundings, and motivating a personal fire of discovery for their/our autonomy.
Gunk is playing online until 2 May 2021. For more information and tickets, see Battersea Arts Centre’s website.