Happy International Women's Day!
To celebrate, we’ve kept it closer to home and speak to two amazing women in Scotland making their mark. Tomiwa Folorunso is a writer, editor and cultural producer who is based between Brussels and Edinburgh and speaks to us on the female Black-Scottish experience and communicating it through her work. Author of “Flip the Script”, Arusa Qureshi, is a writer and editor and we hear her insightful thoughts on International Women’s Day and the inspiring women in today’s culture.
Read on to hear about Tomiwa and Arusa’s journey to where they are today and accessibility within the arts and culture for women of colour.
Hello Tomiwa! Tell us a little bit about yourself. Who is Tomiwa as an artist and a person?
I’m a Scottish-Nigerian writer, editor and cultural producer who mainly works in film. I accidentally fell into this industry, my undergraduate degree is in history, and I spent most of my teenage years in theatre and performance spaces. Three years ago worked on the grassroots marketing of Queen & Slim, and now here we are! I’m one of three Co-Directors at Fringe of Colour Films, and an External Programmer at Glasgow Film Festival.
Women are in the centre of your works. What made you think about women in the first place? And why was your focus on black women’s artist support and development exactly?
A lot of my early writing was me attempting to situate myself and reckoning with how I see myself versus how I am perceived by others. I am a Black woman, I am a Nigerian woman, and I am a Scottish woman, and so my writing is partly me trying to navigate that. But I also think my work has developed and changed, as have I, and so I think I’m always trying to counter that and ignore the white gaze.
Being an editor and creative producer is the most beautiful opportunity to support people to tell stories, and in different ways. But it’s also important to remember our wealth, we are not only our racial identity and gender. I really enjoyed watching the submissions for Fringe of Colour Films this year because it’s about race, it’s about identity but it’s also about great storytelling and great filmmaking.,
One of your latest projects is “maud.” a film that we would call ‘paying tribute’ and honouring the life of Maud Sulter, an award-winning artist and writer of Scottish and Ghanaian heritage. Why did you choose Maud among other influential Black British women artists?
Maud Sulter should absolutely be considered amongst Black British artists, and at the same time her work is unavoidably, and unapologetically Scottish. Maybe this is the history graduate in me, but I’m really interested in archiving, particularly when talking about Black Scottish histories. We have a history of, and I won’t say erasure, but rather a history of being intentionally ignored and maud. is a small attempt to counter this. At the time Natasha Ruwona Thembiso (maud. director) and I had just finished our first curating our first programme at Glasgow Film Festival; a programme of films and events, with a focus on Black Scottish films, filmmakers and history. And so, film made sense. But most importantly Maud’s work is so rich and beautiful, and we had to share that from the people that her work speaks to the most.
You are also the sub-editor of another festival called Fringe of Colour Films. How has your experience been so far navigating the Art scene as a Black woman in Scotland, especially in a challenging time after COVID-19?
I am absolutely a Black woman, but one who carries a lot of cultural capital, I grew up very freely able to explore, and engage with the Scottish arts scene – but I was often the only Black Person, or Person of Colour, apart from my parent in these spaces. I recognise this, I’m aware of this, and so on a personal level it’s important to me that my work is authentic to my experience. I think when considering my role at Fringe of Colour, I come from a writing background so Editorial Director makes sense. Edinburgh was the city I grew up in, and I have a lot of love for it but also critique. And so, I hope we at Fringe of Colour Films can bring something to the city that is lacking.
Having worked with young artists facilitating and running panels, talks, workshops, networking and skills sessions for artists. What is your message for young BPOC artists in Scotland, especially young women?
Be authentic – which sounds so cliché and girl-bossy but honestly this. In my earlier 20s I think some of my work especially really catered to the white gaze, and now I’ve recognised this I’m always trying to fight this in all aspects, as an editor and a writer. So, find your authentic voice!
Hello! Can you tell us a bit about yourself??
I’m Arusa, a writer and editor based in Edinburgh, who writes mostly about music and other arts-related things. I’m the Editor of Fest and the former Editor of The List and I recently wrote a book called Flip the Script, which is about women in UK hip hop, published by 404 Ink. I regularly write for places like NME, the Skinny, Time Out, the Quietus and the Forty-Five and I’m on the board of the Scottish Music Centre. I have a monthly hip hop show on EHFM (first Monday of the month at 2pm!) and I also occasionally DJ.
Wow! What does International Women’s Day (IWD) mean to you?
It’s a chance to honour and celebrate women that have done and are doing incredible things in every walk of life. It’s also a reminder of the issues still at hand when it comes to areas like gender equality and reproductive rights, and the work that is still needed to ensure women’s voices and stories are amplified around the world.
This year's IWD theme is #EmbraceEquity; how would you address the cultural issues that form the background of the gender pay gap, especially in the creative industries?
I think the creative industries still have a lot of work to do when it comes to addressing the gender pay gap and despite promises to improve issues of equity following the pandemic, there hasn’t been as much progress as there should have been. To begin with, it’s up to organisations and institutions to acknowledge the existence and extent of the gender pay gap, and to educate those that are unaware through meaningful discussion. They should also think about transparent and fair pay policies and invest in training and development to address any skills gaps. In addition, there needs to be a greater attempt to highlight and boost women and gender minorities so they can feel supported in their attempts to take on prominent positions and move up the ladder.
Which women inspire you?
I’m inspired by women in hip hop like Queen Latifah, Cookie Crew, Monie Love and Little Simz for breaking boundaries and carving a solid space for women in the genre. In terms of journalists, there are so many whose writing on music I enjoy and read regularly like Jude Rogers, Ann Powers, Jessica Hopper, Laura Snapes, Lesley Chow, Clover Hope and Kathy Iandoli. But I’m probably most inspired by the women around me every day – my friends and colleagues who are continually killing it in their fields.
What projects and campaigns are you excited about for 2023?
I’m really looking forward to Blair Young and Carla J.Easton’s new film Since Yesterday, which aims to tell the story of Scotland’s all-girl bands covering the period 1960 to 2010. I’m also excited to see what comes next for the brilliant Hen Hoose collective, who are doing such wonderful things for women in music in Scotland. Their collaborative album ‘Equaliser’ was one of my absolute favourites of 2021!
What fulfils you?
This is a tough one because I think so many of us have struggled with getting back to a sense of normalcy following Covid and feeling fulfilled in terms of work is maybe a little more complicated than before. But generally, I feel fulfilled when I’m writing, when I’m at gigs and when I’m able to spend time with people I really respect and admire.
How can women stand in solidarity with one another?
We can listen and support one another, especially when it comes to individual stories and experiences. But we can all also lift each other up by sharing each other’s achievements, celebrating our collective wins and advocating for each other in the case of injustices. Above all else though, it’s important to believe women and acknowledge the hardships that exist for different communities, instead of alienating and vilifying anyone for their differences.
In some circles, IWD has been viewed as an infantilisation of women; what is your view on this?
I think IWD is, or should be at least, about advocating for change and this can only happen when you address issues of gender inequality at every level. It’s not about infantilising women, rather it’s about acknowledging that there are still significant disparities that exist in terms of violence, employment, education and representation. One day will absolutely not change the world and I’m very sceptical of companies and organisations that use IWD as an opportunity to boast about achievements and initiatives that should be commonplace. But if we can use the day as a way to promote equality and raise awareness for ongoing struggles faced by women and gender minorities all over the world, that’s fine by me.
Your achievements in the creative industries, in music and the publishing world have been amazing! What barriers have you faced in your career?
When I became the Editor of The List, one of the things I was most concerned about was people not taking me seriously because of my age. I was 25 but truthfully, it was a mix of my age, and being a woman of colour as well. I’ll admit that there were some annoying things I had to navigate but I think I became more confident over time in the role. A huge part of that though was to do with me realising how important it was to take up that space for the future of people like me, because as a teenager I didn’t believe such a career was possible for me.
I lost that job during Covid and that was incredibly difficult, mostly in terms of my mental health and how it impacted my confidence. I wouldn’t say I’m grateful to have gone through the experience but I’m happy to have come out the other end and pleased that I’ve been able to build up a freelance career that I’m proud of.
What is your favourite lyric from a hip-hop artist?
“Ladies first, there's no time to rehearse, I'm divine and my mind expands throughout the universe.”