Poet Emi Mahmoud at Trust Conference

Emi Mahmoud is a poet and activist from Sudan, and as the reigning 2015 Individual World Poetry Slam Champion and Women of the World Co-Champion 2016, Emi is proof of the important relationship between the arts and activism.

Poet Emi Mahmoud at Trust Conference

The Trust Conference 2017 marks the 5th annual conference for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, this year focusing on fighting human trafficking, slavery and human rights. As the 600 delegates fill the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in London's Westminster, Emi opens the forum by confidently stepping onto the stage in front of NGOs, government officials and CEOs from across the globe.

Throughout her performance Emi powerfully grounds the audience in the intimate reality of these tragedies, integral to unlocking the compassion within the conference hall ahead of two days worth of startling statistics, groundbreaking research and horrific testimonies. So amidst the panels and discussions at the heart of this event, it is worth questioning why Emi's artistic approach stands out from the crowd.

To add to her notable achievements, in 2015 Emi was highlighted as one of the BBC's most inspirational women of 2015; with her confident stage presence and enlightening lyricism it is easy to see why. Emi's primary focus through her poetry and public speaking is on the plight of refugees and disadvantaged communities.

Emi's presence is a light and youthful one, as she delivers her poetry with a smile and a bounce in her step. This optimism is an engaging style of delivery as she discusses the struggles refugees face against a cruel system in Birdwatching in Lesvos Island, "separating mother and father with the stroke of a pen". She provides a fresh atmosphere in an audience of attendees who also spend their lives challenging these atrocities. This approach to activism through the arts is unique at an event like this, creating an emotional response from the crowd.

Performance poetry such as this allows the speaker to embrace the natural drama involved with a highly charged subject matter. As audiences we can choose to engage in their anger or enthusiasm by its infectious nature, or resist it, which is why performance art in particular accompanies activism so successfully. Both disciplines require heart, with the same tactic of harnessing human empathy, tugging at heart strings that make us act. Mahmoud is effective in taking a grip of those emotions through her approachable, honest expression, creating an accessible act whilst discussing complex issues.

It is this element of accessibility which strengthens the relationship between the arts and activism. By expressing personal difficulty, spreading awareness of an issue, Mahmoud creates a link between the personal and the political. A more typical approach to activism via leafleting, lobbying and fundraising, whilst effective in defining a clear message, does not always feel accessible, occasionally lacking the emotion of a particularly charged situation.

Mahmoud is a welcomed hero in both fields, bringing energy to silenced stories through her buoyancy, youthful flair and writing talent. A master of empathy, Emi Mahmoud is an inspiration, "I always tried to talk about putting people back in front of the numbers".

For more coverage of the powerful work seen at Trust Conference, head to our Twitter @VoiceMagUK to look back on live tweets of the event.


Maddie Drury

Maddie Drury Contributor

Maddie is currently studying History and Journalism at Goldsmiths University. Like a 40-year-old man takes to running, Maddie has recently become obsessed with learning Spanish.

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  • Luke Taylor

    On 20 November 2017, 10:44 Luke Taylor Contributor commented:

    This looks amazing, Maddie!

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