The Queer Feminist Fight Club Teaching Ju-Jitsu and Herbalist Healing

We meet the London artist behind Shadow Sistxrs Fight Club, a safe space for the collective nourishment of body and soul.

Artist Ayesha Tan-Jones is a force to be reckoned with. The 24-year-old’s work blends spiritualism with activism to present a queer, optimistic dystopia through pop music, mixed media sculpture, alter-egos, digital image and video work. In a fantasy world, where universes co-exist, they aim to create diverse and eco-conscious narratives to get people thinking more sustainably and ethically.

Among their many ventures, Tan-Jones is the co-founder of Shadow Sistxrs Fight Club, a physical and metaphysical self-defence class for women, non-binary people and Queer Transgender Intersex People of Colour. Taking a refreshingly holistic approach to self-protection, the practice combines Brazilian Ju-Jitsu and the magic of herbalism to cultivate a sense of communal ritual and collective healing. The resulting classes conjure up a powerful and creative energy, while giving people the opportunity to grow and learn. Now, Shadow Sistxrs Fight Club is taking up residency at ICA London, where they’re collaborating with Social Creative Network to produce a Self-Protection Manifesto. With an open call now out, they are currently seeking short videos and texts on themes of self-protection, self-love and self-care to include in the work.

Shadow Sistxrs began in February 2017 as a series of herb workshops led by Tan-Jones for their friends. These initial classes comprised learning how to make organic pepper spray, and a series of rituals performed by Tan-Jones to invoke protection for the participants. But Tan-Jones felt there needed to be something more – something that championed the body itself as protector — and soon came up with the idea for  Shadow Sistxrs Fight Club, along with co-founder Monique Etienne. They started out by putting on donation-based classes in DIY and artist-run spaces, working with with various LGBTQI+ venues before the ICA came into the picture.

Tan-Jones’s art has always been about “optimistic dystopia”, and Shadow Sistxrs is no different. In a world where utopia is virtually impossible, the artist explains, the club’s aim is to create a safe space within a heteronormative and patriarchal power structure.  “It’s about creating spaces for your community to nourish the body and soul, collectively”.

Tan-Jones’s determination to drum up a sense of ecological awareness in their audience is an extension of this desire for communal nourishment. In their acclaimed film Indigo Zoom, for instance, the artist adopts the persona of an oxygen mask-clad superhero called Indigo Zoom, and embarks on a mission to source clean air — a project inspired by London’s toxic pollution levels.

Much of Tan-Jones’s other work centres on the internet — they are known for their online alter-egos Una Jynxx and the Cyber Druid, part of what Tan-Jones terms “digital drag” — and their love/hate relationship with their cult online following, “You can find a community online that you might not find elsewhere,” they explain. “Before I lived in London, my escape was internet art spaces — I needed to find my people.” But recently Tan-Jones has grown concerned about the gap between “irl” existence and that of the cyber-world, questioning where the line is drawn, as well as the potential effect of the internet upon mental and spiritual health.

For this reason, the growing, “irl” Shadow Sistxrs community is particularly important to the artist – “it’s the project I have most put myself into, so it’s very ‘truthful’,” they explain. So while Una Jynxx and the Cyber Druid run riot in cyber-space, and Tan-Jones’s real life alter-ego, musician Yaya Bones, thrills everyone with plaintive sounds on stage, it is Tan-Jones themselves who is omnipresent in Shadow Sistxrs Fight Club. The resounding message the artist gives from this new platform is one of inclusivity, diversity, positivity and hope — in its most genuine form.

Submit your short videos and texts responding to themes of self-protection, self-love and self-care to the ICA now. Deadline: 6th July 2018.

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