Megan Powell: Get Stabbed & Boogie

by Alison Criddle

Lips , digital print, 2018

Lips, digital print, 2018

Megan Powell is an artist, photographer and filmmaker. She is Lecturer in Photography at the University of Salford. Powell completed her Masters in Fine Art from the Royal College of Art in 2011 and was working in London when she was attacked and stabbed in the face by a group of men. Alison Criddle has collaborated with Megan Powell as a writer and producer since 2013.

“Get stabbed and boogie,” she said, “that’s what I’m calling it.” And she opened her mouth and grinned; a wonderful gurgling laugh bursts forth, a clarion call to action, and we raised our glasses in a toast.

White whore they called her.

 White light and they tore her face.

In the darkness of the aftermath of attack she made light. Inebriated and shell-shocked, post-traumatic stress sank into neurons and reset bones smarted. The trigger of the self-timer shuttered and shuddered against the horrors of a moment of sustained and violent attack. It’s easy to dress it up in poetics, to draw a reader in, but what is it to face yourself in a mirror when you’re a victim with black eyes and a face covered in strapping? Turning the camera on yourself is defiant. Keeping those self-portraits, printing them, presenting them six and a half years later is power.

Get Stabbed and Boogie (Banner) , digital print on banner fabric, 2018

Get Stabbed and Boogie (Banner), digital print on banner fabric, 2018

“Me and the students turned the classroom into a camera obscura today,” she said. Images emerging from the other side of a screen. Projecting light through an opening from darkness. 

 A camera is both eye and mouth. It blinks widely and then swallows the world before it. The image is its voice and its lens. Her camera looks both inwards and outwards, speaking as both singular entity and as part of a whole.

She looks back. Eyes intent, mouth just opened, filled with conviction. In making the image she is no longer alone; she has duplicated herself, blown herself up and printed onto banner fabric. A poster girl for stabbed creatives, she both challenges the viewer and is made vulnerable in the enormity of her larger-than-life pinned-up presence. In another, she throws back her head in sorrow or exaltation, surrounded by darkness or despair, a contemporary saint in grey jersey tee and NHS nose-plate. Madonna versus whore. Eyes and mouth open to the light, a face as both subject and apparatus for looking.

Get Stabbed and Boogie #3 , digital print, 2018

Get Stabbed and Boogie #3, digital print, 2018

There are no images of the attack, only ever the aftermath and the life in making that followed. The photograph is a dead thing breathed into life by the look of the viewer and writ large by the words spoken of it. These ‘little deaths’ are the tangible, tactile, emotive points of reference that allow for an exploration of feeling and encounter. Projecting. I’m projecting my experience of her onto the images of her past through my prose.  She’s allowing me my voice and vision. Reciprocity and exchange, that’s what she frames.

Lips open to speak, to partake in conversation, over a drink, over a tripod, over a therapist’s coffee table. Eyes open wide in laughter, shock, recollection, excitement. Laid back and parted, red Lips (2018) open up as a bloodied wound or a moment before a kiss or of climax or of posture and play or as lesson in studio lighting and composition. Her camera eye makes space for all. As portals, the images open up to language.

Language is a dance. It moves across many terrains, peeks into the nooks and crannies of our internal being and knocks at the door of locked chambers of memory. To dance is to move through time and create space for making, for shape and gesture and form.

 She made a playlist and brought a disco ball to the preview.

 I'm a victim of the very song I sing
You gave me a brand new reason
To start fixing up my face

 sings Candi over the drum machine.

 I feel love sings Donna.

 Yes Sir, I Can Boogie is the tune we dance to.

From the darkroom of recovery. Her camera as eye and mouth, vision and voice. A testament to the sight that was almost cut away.

Listen to the playlist created by Powell to accompany the exhibition here.