Violence Into Art: In Conversation with Tré Ventour
10th December 2021
Tré Ventour was first brought to our attention during an anti-racism in the VAWG sector seminar, which was ended with a breath-takingly powerful poem called Man-Made written and read out by Tré himself: a poem he dedicated to victims and survivors or male violence and the system that enables it. Moved by his words, his wisdom and his energy, we asked him if we could feature him in our Violence Into Art series, which coincides with the last day of 16 Days of Action – a campaign we desperately need men to engage with.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.
I am a UK-Midlands-based, neurodivergent, 26-year-old writer-poet. In terms of formal education, I hold both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, respectively, in Creative Writing (BA) and Race, Education and Decolonial Thought (MA).
It surprises many people to hear considering how I educate people now, that I was not considered ‘smart’ at school/college. In fact, many of my teachers wrote me off and I got into university through clearing. My story is a good example of how the school system is not suitable for most. For me, my learning style is not compatible for the neurotypical metric the education system built on.
I am a Race and Black History educator, writer-poet and sometimes journalist, and I’m a community volunteer at a local charity called NorFAMtoN. Also, I do write poems about disability, namely about my autism and dyspraxia. When I’m not doing that, I do deliver race and Black history sessions on a freelance basis to any interested. As I have done schools, universities, and others.
Who and what inspires you as an artist?
Actually, I know it’s quite cringey but my mom. Since the start of COVID, my mom has been working from home. She’s a domestic abuse trainer, and has been for a few years now but I never got to see the sorts of work she did until lockdown happened. Only being around each other constantly, was I able to appreciate the importance of her work. When she’s not at her day-job, she is training organisations in FGM with her colleague Laney Holland through their charity Creating Equalz.
Watching her work also showed me how much the work I do in race and Black history may be useful in domestic abuse spaces. The story of Rosa Parks before the Bus Boycott is not something many people talk about or know about because we do not teach it in schools. If we are also to teach colonialism (particularly in the North/South American context), we must also teach how white supremacy and colonialism was gendered and that comes attached to histories of rape and sexual violence. Very much in the context of when white colonisers entered Black and Indigenous spaces. My mom’s work is inspiring, but so are the Black and Black Mixed-Race British Caribbean and African matriarchs that raised me. It takes a village to raise children. Sure, I have male relatives in my life, but the people that have had the most impact in my life have been the Black women in my familial circles. While more recently in my education work, it is also the Black and Brown women who have been most influential on me. From the authors I read to the people I am happy to call my friends. Seemingly, many of the people I have met in community work and equalities, are racially minoritised women and they bring an energy that resonates and has done since I was child.
What’s the story behind your poem “Man-made”?
Originally, it was the Murder of Breonna Taylor in March 2020. I did not hear about this murder until George Floyd was killed in June. This showed me that for Breonna to be seen and thought about on a world stage, it took the death of a Black man (though a man no less) reminding me how patriarchy still functions in Black Lives Matter. It also showed me how I did not relate to Black Lives Matter because it did not cater to disability which means it did not cater for my Blackness either.
The Murder of Breonna Taylor was a reminder of how patriarchy functions even when we are fighting for justice. For Breonna Taylor to be seen, a Black man had to be killed, and even then, her killers are still at large. I was also stirred by the Sarah Everard killing which showed many of my cis white women colleagues that what was happening to Black people at the hands of police, and what we have complained about for decades, could also happen to them.
Then, I also saw news stories about the murders of Sabina Nessa as well sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman. Not long after the first lockdown was actioned, Belly Mujinga was also killed when a man spat at her while at work (and she thus contracted COVID and died from it). These killings did not show me anything I did not already know, but was a reminder that violence against women in the UK is pervasive – from the little micro-assaults to the brutal murders.
Going back to Joy Gardner who was killed by police in 1993, I felt that the problem is not police that kill. The problem is ‘men that kill’. Not men that kill women … simply men that kill: women, children, other men, nonbinary people, trans people and the rest. Moreover, institutionalised patriarchy shows how male violence is pervasive and while women are dying at the behest of male violence – us men are also victims of men. It’s self-destructive and that is part of patriarchy. Men that kill.
My poem ‘Man-Made’ is a prelude to what I want to turn into a poetry book exploring my experience of male violence and patriarchy, as a man looking into patriarchy but also a man looking out of it too. I want to write about patriarchy through the gaze of a disabled Black-racialised man. And we cannot talk about this without looking at histories of male violence and what we are taught in schools, as I discussed in relation to Rosa Parks, Henry VIII, and witchcraft. Teaching kids that Henry VIII was a misogynist doesn’t sit so comfortably on syllabi, does it?
Your works are steeped in activism, what role do you think art and creativity play in battling social and political issues? (e.g. racism, domestic abuse)
You say my work is “steeped in activism” but I have never defined myself as an activist. I find the term quite challenging when I get paid for lots of my work. Is it right to call me an activist? That said, economic remuneration is something Black-racialised practitioners are constantly talking about in the education spaces I move through, as we’re even fighting to get paid properly. We’re just trying to live out our day-to-day while institutions continue to doubt our abilities and gaslight us. Activist? I’m not comfortable with it, but I understand why people say I am one. That being said, I saw a tweet from comedian Sara Gibbs saying
Basically, if you’re any kind of minority, you’re an “activist”. Not because you necessarily want to be but because so many people seem to think simply being yourself or taking your fair share in life is a provocative or political act & start fighting you on it.
This really hit me in my soul.
Art is a political weapon and has been a useful tool in documenting struggle and resistance both now and historically. In times of crisis, it is the artists not the politicians that have often been speaking the most sense! I never wanted to be an activist or define myself as one. However, because I have had to fight for my “fair share” due to the racism and ableism I experience, my very existence to some people is political. Being Black or Mixed-Race (in my case), and then being neurodivergent as well … having to fight people in Britain’s Black communities on their ableism is tough. Disability is not something Black communities have properly talked about but really need to. Concurrently, fighting white people on their racism is hard as well … the intersectional experience of being a racialised minority while (invisibly) disabled finds itself in my work.
‘Intersectionality’ was first coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, one of the founders of the much-debated Critical Race Theory, in 1989. However, what Crenshaw discusses was thought about before her as well, simply there was not a word for it. bell hooks writes about the relationships between racism and sexism in Ain’t I a Woman? (titled for the speech by Sojourner Truth) and Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. Audrea Lorde’s Sister Outsider also acts a predecessor to intersectionality.
As a Black man using the term, it’s important here I acknowledge the Black women that came before me made and conceptualised it so I as well could have the language to articulate my experience.
Is there anything you would like to share with SATEDA’s audience?
To the women/girls: don’t let the men and boys in your life stand on the sidelines. Equalities is dominated by women, and men of all colours and creeds need to be picking up the slack and taking some of that burden. I can’t tell you the number of meetings I have been to where I am one of few men and I honestly feel embarrassed (I’m told it is frequently like this regardless of geography). Hold them to account, as they need to get involved.
To the boys/men: You’re not as much of a “nice guy” as you think you are. Patriarchy is not just about physical abuse, but it’s all the micro-assaults including the misogynistic comments, enforced gender roles, and the gender roles that don’t allow men to be themselves.
To everybody: As a human species, we should not have to relate to someone’s life to position ourselves as anti-oppression. Everybody holds advantaged and oppressed identities, yet we often sit idly as our friends and colleagues are hurting. I’m not saying I or you as a single person can solve violent institutional cultures, but there is lots we can do in our families and communities. I think this starts with allowing ourselves to feel things and feel emotions wholly. Often, I find when things get too hard, we build walls. I say, let it in … be human. Feel. You’re alive.
Many of my neurodivergent friends feel their own emotions and almost absorb the emotions of other people as well. Especially my autistic friends: very emotionally intelligent. These emotions can fill our bodies. In a violent world that puts profit ahead of people, lots of us have been called ‘over-sensitive’ since we were kids. I have found neurodivergents often (but not always) have an unshakeable sense of social justice … if neurotypicals walked a day as neurodivergent I wonder if we would have half of the problems we do in this world.
I’m by no means saying neurodivergent people are perfect and beyond criticism, but objectiveness is sometimes overrated. Neurodivergents have a role to play. Particularly in social justice; yes, we need to think and reason (and lots of my neurodivergent friends are great in this area too), but as a society we must feel more and emote with our whole bodies as well. Lots to learn.
Note: Though, I have talked in the male-female binary in these answers, I do also acknowledge the way gender-variant people navigate society is completely different to my cis positionality. Especially as a neurodivergent, I am starting to understand the correlations not only gender-variant people have with neurodivergence, but more generally LGBT+ communities and neurodivergence as well.