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Myah Jeffers on Documenting Black Interiority

The Dramaturg turned Director and Photographer




Myah Jeffers has been bringing her lens of truthful storytelling to the world for over a decade. Starting out documenting friends and writing poems, Myah went on to developing her own one woman play, touring it around Birmingham as a teenager. It was this theatrical experience that led Myah to become a dramaturg, working with writers to refine scripts and concepts. With this knowledge behind her, Myah recently began writing her own scripts once again and getting behind the camera to direct her own projects including a debut short film being released in the near future.



Not only is Myah leading a trail of sincere, striking theatre and film projects, in the last few years Myah's presence as a portrait photographer has led her to work with an array of established icons, often celebrating the lives of Black women. Myah's camera has also led her down a documentary route, spending time in her family home in Barbados and capturing the essence of familiar environments.


We get to hear more about how Myah's movement between Barbados and Britain has impacted her approach to creativity. Tune in Myah's interview with Bethany Burgoyne, recorded for Islington Radio or read on to get inspired by Myah's authentic practice of centering love within art.



 



The myriads of Myah's practises centre honesty and truth telling, be it through photography, script writing. But she explains how "That can be a really hard thing to interrogate in a world that is dishonest, so untruthful". Myah's approach to disrupting that norm is through an open heart, telling us how "I'm always trying to find ways to connect and love and that's when the really exciting, juicy, sparky begins to flow."


It's from this place that Myah has become more refined in her approach to storytelling, “I’ve been thinking alot about the concept of black interority - what is the interior of black folk and how can I best document that". This is something that has coincided with Myah's own personal approach to being honest, explaining that “what enabled me to get to a place of committing my life to truth telling was Aunty bell hooks - her glorious bible ‘all about love’ which helped me understand how, for a long time, I had been dishonest with myself and those around me…I had to look inwards and understand what my desires where, who I am as a person. Once I got there, the work began to evolve”.


I feel like my adult life is me trying to undo the performance or construction of identity


Asking Myah what advice she has for trying to connect with self, she suggests sitting and asking yourself “what you truly need. Be really honest… then you can be in a good position to articulate that to the folks around you”. Myah recognises how it’s easy to betray yourself and bend to other people’s expectations but that’s a choice, and we're all capable of making the choice to honour ourself.


Learning more about Myah’s journey towards truth telling leads us to discuss her love for the lens. She tells us about getting an instant camera for her tenth birthday and running around documenting the day. She reminisces on how "I was a big queer when I was a child; all my girls friends where doing a complex choreo to Destiny’s Child but I was in my football outfit and couldn’t do the dance moves.” Myah describes how her camera became a saving grace. “That was the first introduction to the power of documentation and how it gave me a sense of ease and allowed me to observe”.



It was around this time that Myah was writing and reading a lot of fiction (“big up Malorie Blackman!”) which took her “deep into the world of story. I knew that was a healthy sense of escape for me.” This coincided with Myah moving to Barbados which she explains was a “life changing moment of living in a different context, being in a beautiful island with the majority Black population. The tricky thing was I was seen as white, as British. They’d call me English Muffin so that transition was really difficult” During this time, Myah lent on the power of storytelling to unravel her experiences, and as time went on, she continued writing.


Having a camera....was my first introduction to the power of documentation. It gave me a sense of ease and allowed me to observe


By the age of 16, Myah returned to live in the UK, with the dream to be on stage “I’d decided I wanted to be a writer performer, so I had written my first one woman play and I was performing in theaters around Birmingham''. At this time, Myah met a dramaturg who helped her develop her script, making it strong and robust enough to be on stage. Myah explains how “I thought her job was super fucking cool so I asked her if she could teach me how to be a dramaturg and from there she took me under her wing and taught me everything I needed to know." Myah explains how "It was a really exciting turning point for me where I could still be close to words but not necessarily be the person performing or writing those words, [instead] supporting others.” Having worked as a dramaturg on a freelance basis, Myah explains how it’s helped her “now that I’m writing again, and it’s really cool to write now with that dramaturgical brain because it [helps] me best know how to construct a story.”




For Myah, living in Barbados and being Bajan is of fundamental significance to her character and the motivations she has to thrive and flourish as a human being. When discussing moving to Barbados, Myah tells us how “Growing up in a landscape that felt so isolated from the world meant that you constantly look inwards to understand who you are…The mere fact that you’re around folk who look like you does something to your brain in a beautiful way…. Your identity is shaped deeper than your skin tone.” This environment of being around majority Black people is something Myah describes as “enabling me to understand how much further I can push with my life because I didn’t feel limited by my race”. This limitless feeling is one she carried with her as a teenager, moving to the UK again.



The mere fact that you’re around folk who look like you does something to your brain in a beautiful way…. Your identity is shaped deeper than your skin tone


Returning to Barbados each year to visit her family and “escape the chaos of the UK” has helped Myah maintain this connection as well as fuel a lot of Myah’s creative projects. “Thankfully I was in the Caribbean for a good few months earlier this year which meant I could meet with a lot of artists and really understand the ecology of art - there’s some really exciting things happening”. But Myah shares that “unfortunately, I feel I can only truly get to the stage I want to get to with my creativity in a space like the UK because it offers so much, to experiment, explore and have the funding if I need the funding.” The dream would be for Myah to move between the two countries and contribute to the development of the art scene back home.


Discussing the importance of funding, Myah tells us that there’s no clear trajectory to find the resources. “I’m learning that to sustain yourself as an artist through grants and funding you have to think beyond the box of the application process. It’s all about connecting with folk and shooting your shot. It’s terrifying but if you believe in yourself as an artist, other people will believe in you too.” One of Myah’s biggest tips is to talk to friends about projects and self description “Every time you say it, it gets easier. So first write it down, and then keep saying it in different iterations.” This helps with a sense of self belief and confidence around sharing skills, talents, ideas and projects.


I’m learning that to sustain yourself as an artist through grants and funding you have to think beyond the box of the application process. It’s all about connecting with folk and shooting your shot


Carrying this confidence into Myah’s own career, she tells us about her debut short film that she’s written and is currently directing, due to be released in Autumn of 2023. Maintaining a sense of belief around stepping into this new role is something that Myah thanks her producers for, “Every time I have a bit of a wobble, they remind me I’m the best person to tell this story… sometimes you just need someone to bring you back on track”. Reminding us of the importance of having a supportive team to help stay motivated and confident.




We wrap up the conversation by asking Myah about her sassy side. She tells us it was due to recent experiences of grief and feeling like she couldn’t move emotionally or physically that led Myah to start moving her body more. “I feel like I’m in a space of absolute transformation…I’m working out, I’m dancing, frolicking in the marshes, and the more I move my body, the more Sassy I feel because I’m connecting to myself…. And the good repercussions of that is I’m connecting with others more”. Allowing herself to acknowledge every emotion and feel it channel through has come with moments of “crying from pure joy. Which has felt really good because last year I was crying purely from grief.” This shift is something Myah also recognises comes from a sense of security in herself and the connection she has to the spirits of her loved ones. “I one hundred percent feel held by the folks I lost last year. They’re breathing life into me, pushing me forward”.


Taking this energy of growth, Myah tells us how “I’m motivated to achieve a stronger sense of self, to continue to understand who I am and the folks around me. And I’m really excited by continuing to build and be part of communities.” With her sights set on continuing to direct films, Myah tells us she’d love to do this alongside traveling “around the world photographing communities and stories that feel important - that would be a dream.” As we watch this vision unfold in Myah's work, with her own unique style, it is certain that this talented artist will go on to convey an abundance of vital and inspiring stories, archiving for many generations to come and shaping the landscape of visual imagery around the world.



Myah’s Quickfire


When do you feel most confident?

In the morning, right after I’ve stepped out of the shower and I look in the mirror and tell myself “You’ve got this”


What key experience has shaped you positively?

Moving to Barbados - it’s shaped the woman I am today


One dream you wish to come true?

I would love for my parents to continues living a beautiful and joyous life and I want all the stresses and burdens to be released from them


One law you want to change or a cause that is close to my heart?

Two things - legislation around abortion and in turn, conversations around what people with wombs can and can’t do with their bodies. To get to a place where we can have absolute agency over what we do with our wombs

The respecting and supporting of trans lives and not having old white men in positions of power tell trans people what they cannot do to their bodies, how they can identity or who they are fundamentally as people. They are 100% part of the glorious queer community I’m part of and I want to make sure they are being protected.


What's the best thing about being you?

I really love myself in this moment so the best thing about being me is extending that love to others. To give love and to now be open enough to receive it.


Name your tracklist:

I’m All I Need – Beautiful Chorus

Astral Traveling – Pharoah Sanders

Itumeleng Revisited – The Brother Moves On

Journey In Satchidananda – Alice Coltrane

High Risk – Alfa Mist


 

Check out Myah’s work on her website myahjeffers.com

Go give Myah a heart over on IG @myahismyname


Interview and portraits by Bethany Burgoyne @bxsassy2 Catch previous episodes of Cum Bx Sassy via Islington Radio's Mixcloud

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