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  • Eddie Hewitt

Annual Awards 2021

Updated: Dec 28, 2021

The fourth annual virtual ceremony, celebrating excellence in Artistic Creativity and outstanding contributions to Social Justice.

This has been another tough year with limited scope for cultural engagement. Still, in the creative sphere there have been some wonderful performances and exhibitions where we have been able to share experiences again, live and up close, as well as all that streaming and distancing.

In the realm of social justice, alas, this has been a poor year, with a notable lack of strong, ethical leadership, resulting in heartbreaking increase in division and inequality. The cupboard is not quite bare, but things have to change, as ever now more than ever.

Let's reflect then on the brilliant cultural contributions that have enhanced our lives this year, along with some of the interventions that have given us grounds for optimism in everyday life. Inevitably, there are many overlaps between the artistic and social realms.

The curtain rises:

1. Theatre

Winner: Shakespeare's Globe – Twelfth Night

Being a groundling at the Globe is always exciting. This time I felt a few moments of trepidation as well, noting such close proximity to so many other theatre-goers after all that distancing. Still, I was happy to be in the presence of dramatic brilliance i.e. the entire Globe Theatre company as well as Shakespeare himself, there in spirit. The play really was the thing. George Fouracres, as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, made the best entrance ever, à la Tim-nice-but-dim (bloody nice chap actually!). Michelle Terry was superb, and so elegant in a shade of deep jade for interchangeable girl and boy outfits. Shona Babayemi was the most graceful and doleful of Olivias before turning vibrant and exercising the sharpest of tongues. Nadi Kemp-Sayfi was a perfectly mischievous Maria. Everyone in the cast was amazing. And then there was the music. The Globe team always weaves the most wonderful music into the performances, beyond even Shakespeare's expectations, I suspect.

Making a song and dance - back on stage at last. (Photos from the Globe: Marc Brenner)

Nadine Higgin as Sir Toby Belch with George Fouracres as Sir Andrew Aguecheek

Shona Babayemi as Olivia.

Runners up:

The Tower Theatre – The Merchant of Venice

A thrilling production of this most problematic of plays in a perfect setting. Stoke Newington, you are blessed with such a welcoming, intimate theatre with a company dedicated to artistic excellence and social justice.

LAMDA – Cymbeline

A clean sweep for Shakespeare. This time, a cast of mainly American students just about to graduate, tackling one of the Bard’s late plays confidently. Ambitious and loud, but sensitive too. And only a trifle confusing with all that role swapping mid-play. Sensational.

2. Literature

Winner: Nadifa Mohamed - The Fortune Men

The book of the year for me. A chance to step back in time, visit Tiger Bay in 1952 and become immersed in a world of corruption and lies, with historic diversions into Somaliland via tales from the lives of sailors and an evocative gathering of the senses in a series of multi-cultural exchanges. Beautifully written and pulsating, but disturbing rather than nostalgic. This is the story of Mahmoud Hussein Mattan, a Somali sailor and family man, victim of circumstance and institutional racism, and his execution in a whirlwind of injustice and hostility. A fictionalised account of a still recent, historical travesty of justice that is all too British and just so tragic. There was hope right to the end, but in hindsight, the outcome was inevitable.

What makes the book even more poignant, and the reflections even more unbearable, is that things haven’t changed much when it comes to a cruel and hostile Britain. There are no more hangings, thankfully, but people are still being mistreated and lives are still being endangered through hateful, xenophobic policies and abuses of power.

The book of the year. (Paperback edition, due out in June 2022)

3. Contemporary Art

Winner: Ishika Guha

Abstract art can be complex. Hard to find a way into for viewers, perhaps, if not for the artist. The aesthetic possibilities seem boundless. The Connected Cultures Artist of the Year captures the magic so well, in striking and distinctive style. Ishika’s paintings contain so much beauty, in so many variations, with such power to excite the mind. They present wonderful colour combinations, texture, directions and flow, combining varying levels of precision and control with both brush and palette knife. Her paintings convey emotions and experience without having to tell a story or to represent something immediately recognisable. There may be some story-telling going on, some structure, but I sense the creative process here is dynamic and fluid. Gaze on her paintings and prepare to be entranced for hours and hours.

This award is also for Ishika’s support of fellow artists in the NfT Foundation. Her encouragement and her all round contributions to this online community are immense, and so valuable over a period of social distancing and related challenges.

Life by Ishika Guha

Melodrama Midnight by Ishika Guha

I’m delighted to announce that Ishika will be talking about her art in an interview with Connected Cultures early in 2022.

Runner up: Silvia Lerin for Oxide II

Oxide II was originally displayed in the Copper Landscapes exhibition at the Puxa Gallery in Madrid in early Spring 2021. The series includes a range of enchanting and beautiful forms and variations. All of these combine to convey the story of a chemical reaction which creates an enhanced and dramatic result. Oxide II was subsequently selected for the Woolwich Contemporary Art Fair in November.

Oxide II by Silvia Lerin, on display at the Woolwich Works gallery

Calum Stevenson

Winner of the Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year for 2021. His portraits in each of his three four-hour competition rounds were so incredibly detailed and captivating. Perfect likenesses that were somehow even more life-like than photographs. When commissioned to paint violinist Nicola Benedetti, Calum changed style and delivered another stunning painting which now lights up the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh.

Benedetti, Benedetti and Stevenson

(photo: Calum's Twitter TL)

4. Film

Winner: No Time To Die

It really did seem like we had all the time in the world…to sit at home and wonder if we would ever get to see the next Bond movie, or any other movie at the cinema again. Finally, 007 came onto the big screen. And she was amazing. Lashana Lynch, the new 007. But not for long. Once back in action, after a mysterious absence presumed dead, her male predecessor was always going to get his special designation back.

This is the longest Bond movie ever and the action is sadly just a little too explosive. Everything comes to an end not just for Daniel Craig, but also for…Sorry, I just can’t tell you. I’m struggling to deal with this even now. The end of a super-hero extraordinaire. A character whose demise makes the world of the Broccolis seem pointless from now on. Okay, I will tell you: Dr. Hardy was the unlucky character, played by Hugh Dennis. Gunned down in the science lab. Harsh. Fittingly, the song by Billy Eilish is sombre and evocative and I’ve come to love it. But the title belies the story. I can say no more.

A spectacular misnomer

5. Television

Winner: The Outlaws – created by Stephen Merchant

Starring Christopher Walken, Stephen Merchant and a fine supporting cast. Dangerous and scary but very funny. Set in my home city of Bristol. This drama had so much going for it. Guns, a holdall full of dirty money, dysfunctional families (so many of them), failed career dreams, hugely inflated egos, social menaces, histories of regret, desperation, activism and pleasantries, the joys of learning, legal blunders, changes of heart, love even, all set against the backdrop of community payback. How can so much bad be so good? At times there seemed to be no hope, no way out. Come the climax…well, I really can’t spoil this either. Just be prepared to be surprised, with a massive helping of nostalgia. Listen out for a haunting song by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Then remind yourself to jump back into the present and dare to envisage a happy future if this is not a step too far.

Outlaws: a throwback to the kind of drama they just don't make any more. Except the BBC still does. Scary, funny, and full of social awareness.

6. Sport

Winners: Elaine Thompson-Herah, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Shericka Jackson

For the Gold-Silver-Bronze performance in the 100m sprint final at the Tokyo Olympics. Most of all, for the look on Shelly-Ann’s face when she didn’t win: Pryceless. Out of many, at least two team members who seem to hate each other. Differences and egos aside, the individual performances were brilliant; one more brilliant than the others. And collectively, the dominance was fantastic. Sadly, Dina Asher-Smith failed to make the final eight due to the after-effects of a serious injury, but it was a wonder she was able to run in Tokyo at all. Roll on Paris 2024.

Silver, Gold and Bronze in Tokyo. The drama continued long after the race had ended.

Runners up:

Jason Kenny

For seeing a gap behind him in the final of the Keirin cycling event in the velodrome, seizing the moment, pulling away when the others weren’t looking, pedalling like a demon and leaving everyone far behind. That’s just not the way it’s normally done. But it secured another gold medal in Tokyo and it was breath-taking.

Out on his own: Jason Kenny.

Sergio Agüero

All good things...

...and yet, when the end came, it was far too soon, and cruelly far from home. The goals (260 from 390 games) the hat-tricks (15), the trophies (15), the performances all round, all for Manchester City. Simply magnificent. The events in May 2012 were genuinely life-changing. Reward for the supporters for so many decades of heartbreak. A moment never to be forgotten. Ten years on, the playing career is over, but the love will last forever. There is talk of Sergio now taking up an ambassadorial role at the Etihad. The truth is, blues everywhere will be taking up an ambassadorial role for Sergio.

Count them!

7. Leadership (Political)

No strong outright contenders here in the UK. There has been an astonishing paucity of leadership in government yet again this year. Wallowing in corruption, incompetence, abnegation of responsibility and denial.

But, the cupboard is not quite bare. There have been some traces of opposition and decency. The following are commended:

Dawn Butler MP, for Brent Central, Labour, for plain speaking in the House of Commons, making it clear who was lying (clue, the lies were coming from the other side of the chamber, all year long). Butler was suspended for telling the truth, but she cannot be silenced. Angela Raynor, MP for Ashton-under-Lyne, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, came up with for a rather choice word for the Government, too. They had no comeback on either occasion, just more denial. The truth will set us free eventually.

We must turn our attention to Europe, and praise Angela Merkel, former German chancellor, for sixteen years of true leadership. Liebe Tante. Authoritative, thoughtful and fair-minded. She frequently tried to do her best for Britain as well as for Germany and the rest of Europe. If only Britain had someone similar.

Danke schön Tante und glücklicher Ruhestand

8. Social Justice

Winner: The Bristol Four and everyone who is supporting them. They are in the middle of a malicious and hateful trial, currently adjourned and due to be resumed in January 2022. The vindictive, smirking Home Secretary is seeking to criminalise those who led the way in taking down the Colston statue in Bristol in 2020. We need to care about people today, not commemorate horrendous figures in the past. And yet the British establishment has no shame. Time, for all time, to celebrate four heroes, sitting in the dock for sending a statue to the dock of the bay.

We stand with you: (L-R) Milo Ponsford, Sage Willoughby, Jake Skuse and Rhian Graham

Runners up:

Raheem Sterling, for creating the Raheem Sterling Foundation, giving disadvantaged youngsters a chance in life. And for being a leading light in the campaign against racism, even when he became a forgotten lion at the end of the Euro 2020 competition.

#BoyFromBrent and friends

Gareth Southgate, manager of England, for human decency and inspirational, inclusive leadership, and a voice to the nation, even though his primary area of expertise is kicking balls about and missing penalties. Euro 2020 in 2021 may not have been his finest hour, yet, but it was pretty damn fine!

9. Cultural Connectivity - special award

Winner: The award this year goes to Amanda Gorman, for her wonderful words at the inauguration of President Joe Biden way back in January. Her poem The Hill We Climb, performed so beautifully for all the world to hear, demands radical change. The mistakes of the past, including the very recent past, must not be repeated. Everyone must work together to bring about true equality:

“We are striving to forge a union with purpose, to compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.”

A new start

Amanda combines creative life force and youthful energy with commitment to social justice, bringing forth cultural connectivity in its most vibrant and comprehensive form. In contrast, Biden has not fared well over the year, especially with the way he oversaw (or perhaps failed to oversee) the withdrawal from Afghanistan. This may just have opened the White House door again to the worst president ever in three years’ time. Perish the thought. The world needs strong female leadership. May God help America to ensure the next president is Kamala Harris.

10. Lifetime Achievement Award

At the time of preparing this review of 2021, Archbishop Desmond Tutu has just passed away. Desmond Mpilo Tutu was a man of resilience and optimism; always forward-looking. A hugely deserving winner of the Nobel price for Peace in 1984. A leading figure in the fight against racism in his country and beyond. A man with true Christian values and conviction. Patient, kind, forgiving, certainly, but this did not compromise his absolute commitment to dismantling apartheid. He was very much a man of the people, tirelessly supportive of the less fortunate and the victimised in society.

in 1995 Tutu was appointed by Nelson Mandela as chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Perhaps a surprising policy, and one which many who had suffered for so long may have found hard to accept, but ultimately it allowed for a peaceful way forward. Inevitably, this could not solve all the problems, and Tutu continued to speak out strongly against all forms of injustice and inequality. This was a man who showed true leadership, by serving others. One who showed mercy and compassion, but also one who remained strong to the end. Few will be missed more than Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

A true champion of equality, beloved spiritual leader of the Rainbow Nation and friend to all of us. Forever ready with a smile.

© Eddie Hewitt 2021


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