"We don't live in post-racial times"

| by Eleanor Turney

A Q&A with Selina Thompson about her solo show, which explores the afterlife of slavery and colonialism

Selina Thompson. Photograph: Richard Davenport

Why did you make salt.?

I made salt. because I wanted to make a show about the afterlife of slavery and colonialism that didn’t present black people and the black body as abject to make its point. I wanted to make a show that very clearly placed Europe and the UK in the triangle of the transatlantic slave trade, as the way in which history has been written often obscures and hides its place within it.

And — it might sound flippant, but it’s important — I made it because I’m a performance artist, and making shows is what I do. It is the set of tools that I have to navigate the world I live, and we are living in what I would describe as a very white moment in our history – a point at which things could change, or not. I want to be part of what is pushing for that change, in my own way.

What do you hope audiences will take away from the show?

I find the question of what people might take away from a show like salt. quite difficult to answer – because slavery and colonialism, and our attempts to come to terms with them and reconcile ourselves with the realities of how they manifest in the here and now, are a very personal journey. I don’t know where my audiences will be on that journey when they enter the theatre. 

But I guess I can hope, quietly and tentatively, that if you are a person marginalised and oppressed by what Bell Hooks describes as  the “imperialist, white supremacist capitalist patriarchy”, that you feel seen and loved and cared for within the show, that you know I stand in solidarity with you. And that if you are somebody who benefits from those systems, that there are things in the show that hold you to account. That there is space is open for you to be able to do that long and painful work. And I believe that that message is relevant whether you are watching the show in Edinburgh, New York City, Paris or Melbourne.

"Our notions of home and our relationships to each other are going to change"

And for audiences around the world, do you hope they will take away anything different?

I think that if the show were to play in a country that had a history of being colonised, as opposed to a country that had a history of colonising, a different  and to me, much more interesting — set of conversations would take place. Conversations about whiteness are of limited interest to me. Conversations about solidarity between the African diaspora and our other people of colour (POC) siblings globally, feel much more rich. 

Conversations about privilege as a set of shifting sands, about the ever-changing nature of home within our diaspora, about where POC in Western countries are complicit and a part of the problem — about where the Asian continent fits into a narrative like this, and what their relationship is to these conversations. I can’t predict how it will play  I have travelled so little in my life. But I can say that I think there are global implications to the questions the show asks.

salt. is a deeply personal show, which I think comes across very strongly. Can you tell us about the importance of telling this story to as many people as possible?

It is strange to be asked why a show matters, especially if it’s autobiographical. Um, I don’t know! Because we don’t live in post-racial times, we don’t live post-colonially or post-slavery. Not while we live in a time of mass incarceration on both sides of the Atlantic; not when the tourism industry, as it is currently set up, enables people to play out modern reinventions of colonialism.

As the world gets smaller and easier to traverse  as climate change ramps up and people begin to move and move and then move again  our notions of home and our relationships to each other are going to change. We need to start thinking practically about how we’re going to live together better. That history is where we start that thinking. Putting ourselves in each other’s shoes and being honest about what we learn about ourselves by doing that is how we figure it out. So that’s why people should see it.


Selina Thompson, an artist and performer based in Leeds, was talking to Eleanor Turneya freelance journalist, editor and arts consultant, and Co-Director of Incoming Festival.

salt. is at Northern Stage, Summerhall from 526 August (not on Wednesdays).


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