This article by London based poet Kareem Parkins-Brown is part of the Spread the Word series, commissioned for the SLG’s Convergence programme.
CONTENT GUIDANCE Please note, this text has references to violence.
1. Michael in the year above sent me a message ‘youre gonna get shanked.’. At first I wasn’t scared. I was insulted to find out my life could be threatened in Comic Sans.
2. Somewhere between Deansbrook and Burnt Oak. There’s a boy bleeding out on the floor. He’s propped up against the wall like a Teddy Bear. Ralph Lauren puts pressure on the bleeding from his head. He nods in and out of sleep. What he thought was the sound of the police helicopter in the air was actually the ceiling fan in heaven.
3. Like the Surrealists after World War I and II needed a break from reality, I think subconsciously the Produkky is about a kid grappling with innocence.
The war was the Postcode Wars of early to mid-2000s. This was the era where cartoon characters became our dangerous sidekicks, and little side pouches with Winnie The Pooh or Looney Tunes Characters on them were what all the road yutes kept their phones, flick knives, pistols, weed and cocaine in.
4. Produkky, Produckies, Producklez, Produkkyz, Producky, Productions, Producktion, Producktionz – all versions are accepted. I was Myspace.com/SketchezProdukkyz so I’ll use that one now.
5. I would describe a produkky as a mixtape cover for someone who’s not a rapper. See how surrealist paintings represent the dreamworld with nondescript desert? Most produkkyz I saw shared a black backgrounds with clouds, lightning, or bubbles; you were either in the sky or underwater and your name was likely written in flames. Also, they had a pair of eyes (from No Fear clothing) plastered around the canvas somewhere. Sounds surreal to me.
6. I think the subconscious reason for the black background’s popularity was that by looking at anybody’s Produkky, we should acknowledge we emerge out of the same place. from the same place, no matter whose name and picture was on it. Or at the back of all this, this dangerous game you lot are playing, is death. Darkness, framing us at the centre, a kid. And also, this ain’t no dreamland.
7. I think visual art that comes out of, concerns, or is reflecting the Hood, is automatically surreal. It’s such a strange set of circumstances. It’s a place where people could do with a distraction, a really far out there distraction. A really WTF kind of distraction.
8. Even when you’re just saying things that you saw or you heard, you sound way too surreal. oi come we steal that window. (I still don’t know how you’d achieve this) yo, do you wanna buy a swing? (is it attached to the frame…?)
9. I had a surreal moment with the English language when I was choosing a knife to put in my schoolbag. I had one earphone in, and Skepta said “go on then, draw for the tool.” I was on JME’s myspace page that morning and had found out he was a graphic designer. “Draw for the tool.” might have meant something else to him. I didn’t wanna do anything with this knife, but my life had been threatened. And I actually did want to go to school. But as I look down into the kitchen knives, I see my reflection chopped up. I bunk off school and make some produkkyz for my MySpace page instead.
10. If you are too linear, you are not going to survive. You will end up going to war with yourself.
11. I initially did produkkyz for a couple cool kids in the years above. My best clients were Lyrical Flex and Nemzy Dan. Two MCs from Graveyard Family. It was these two who really publicised my artwork. I did mixtape covers and promo posters for them and they actually used them! This opened the door for everyone. Everyone wanted to look or feel like an MC, and produkkyz looked like mixtape covers for your average Alan. But it also meant these people trusted me to see the other side to them. That when it was just me on the other side of a text conversation with a JPEG you sent me of you, you trust that I will see the thing in your dreams.
12. And so sometimes I took days making them. I didn’t care. I wasn’t charging you regular kids because you didn’t have a commercial use for my produkkyz. But then allow me to take my time seeing you.
13. I kept struggling with the question of am I a graphic designer? Design is problem solving. My problem was getting others to embrace themselves, and proving I shouldn’t get shanked. And I think by doing graphic stuff I designed myself out of a graphic situation. I think I was embraced because I wouldn’t let anybody be anything but themselves.
14. Hey I’m not saying anybody’s life was saved by a JPEG. But I think lives were amplified. And therefore I didn’t have to do that kind of graphic stuff. And that solution I designed for myself also ended up serving others, that’s the perfect design.
15. I think the produkky means so much to me because it’s something I made when I was really afraid. And it ended up solving a problem for me than just me. The produkky tells me to see a person as someone else, and by seeing them as someone else, you are solving a problem for that person.
Kareem Parkins-Brown is from north west London. He is proud to be a Barbican Poet Alumni and the 2019 Roundhouse Poetry Slam winner. He has collaborated with The Barbican Centre and Tate Britain. You can find him on Twitter (@kalmtree) and Instagram (@kalm.tree).
Spread the Word is London’s writer development agency, a charity and a National Portfolio client of Arts Council England. It is funded to help London’s writers make their mark on the page, the screen and in the world and build strategic partnerships to foster a literature ecology which reflects the cultural diversity of contemporary Britain. Spread the Word has a national and international reputation for initiating change-making research and developing programmes for writers that have equity and social justice at their heart. In 2020 it launched Rethinking ‘Diversity’ in Publishing by Dr Anamik Saha and Dr Sandra van Lente, Goldsmiths, University of London, in partnership with The Bookseller and Words of Colour. Spread the Word’s programmes include: the Young People’s Laureate for London, the London Writers Awards and the national Life Writing Prize.
Convergence is an ongoing series of critical conversations, screenings and written commissions, facilitated by the SLG and curated and hosted by invited guests.
With Art Fund support