We are saddened to share the news that our dear friend and Writing Our Legacy collaborator Irene Mensah passed away on Friday 12 April at 8.50am in Brighton.
Irene was a multi-talented artist, community worker and educator. She was a visual artist with a studio at Studio 106 and the Artree group, who recently exhibited as part of Black History Month in 2011. In 2012, she also exhibited Mutter Matter Murmurings From The Drawing Room Table, a site-responsive art installation at Pitzhanger Manor-House & Gallery devised with co-collaborator Jane Fox.
Irene was also an exceptional African dancer, dancing for many years with Kissifaramaya and other dance groups. I personally first met Irene in her last West African dance class when I first moved to Brighton and was astounded by the sheer power of her energy and joy. It was an unexpected delight to learn more about Irene’s multi-facted talents, such as discovering she was a visual artist or that she worked on fascinating community projects, such as an oral history project in Hastings with the Jewish community.
More recently, I had the pleasure of working with Irene through the Black History Month group in Brighton, since 2010, where we met monthly to organise art and cultural events for the community. I remember Irene’s little comforting smiles to members of the group, as well as her strong ideas and opinions, which were always welcome.
She was a great supporter of the monthly spoken word and music Countdown nights, which we used to build audiences for Black History Month – all year long. It was a lot of fun and we had a lot of laughs. Irene also read her poetry at several of the Writing Our Legacy events, including an impromptu pop-up reading at Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar car park.
Irene and I also worked together on a Tables of Remembrance and Ideas for the 2010 street party. Children and adults were invited to decorate paper bunting triangles with their heroes past and present, which were strung up around the square in front of Unitarian Church. I helped Irene with the marathon bunting project – miles of African coloured bunting, which we use at all our Black History Month events! (but she doesn’t want to be just remembered for this, we know for sure)
Irene was involved with our Latin Voices Live programme (2012) as an artist and maker. She ran Day of the Dead craft workshops at Mosaic Bring a Dish and she was a lead artist working alongside Tom Hamilton to create the fantastic array of colourful decoration for our November event. I can remember our celebratory meal in December, complete with shots of tequila (I think she abstained!) and food and laughter.
More recently, I have gotten to know Irene through our Write Meet Read writers group. We started work on a group anthology and I was enjoying hearing Irene’s poetry and prose come to life the more we progressed.
There is so much more to remember and know about Irene – this is only a small snapshot of the times I had the pleasure in working with her – not including counting her as a special friend too.
For Latin Voices Live 2013, we are planning to honour Irene in our Day of the Dead altar, which is a centrepiece to the day’s activities in November. For Write Meet Read, we are dedicating the anthology to Irene and her wisdom, kindness and creativity – the launch will take place on 2 November at Brighton Dome.
There is an open Facebook group set up to remember Irene, where friends and family are posting photographs, memories and information about memorials, events and her funeral.
Rest in peace Irene.