Jon McCurley’s Monsters of the World focuses on the global chocolate trade through the lens of his Irish-Vietnamese roots, and his parents’ experience of meeting whilst working for Cadbury’s in the 1970s.
What do you see when you stare at the Commonwealth connections of Birmingham’s industrial past?
Descriptions of headless half-human people with gold-coloured skin, seen at the farthest reaches of the world, are in practically every ancient and medieval European document regarding monsters. For over 2,500 years, religious and political leaders, explorers, and scholars claimed that during their time in the ‘New World’, they encountered headless monster people.
These creatures, known as Blemmyes, had been seen climbing trees, hiding from people, talking softly, eating leaves, and generally being weird. To everyone’s horror, they were said to engage in cannibalism and worship non-christian gods.
Today, Blemmyes can be interpreted as proof of proto ‘fear of the other’, which helped inspire 17th-century ideas like nationalism, and 20th-century ideas like xenophobia and racism. Yet amazingly, during the Middle Ages, the Blemmyes were used to teach inclusivity and tolerance.
Within Bournville’s historic green spaces over two consecutive weekends in July, a group of performers will recreate the fantasy of the Blemmye, as was apparently witnessed by European imperialists. The performers will enact behaviour and activities which were said to be ‘true’ in maps and travel journals over thousands of years.
The so-called ‘edges of the known world’, where mythical monsters were claimed to have existed in previous centuries, appear to mirror today where multinational companies extract resources, exploit labour, open new markets, and sell products.
The Monsters of the World Tour launches at Eastside Projects on Friday 1 July, 6pm, before moving to Bournville on Saturday 2 July and Saturday 9 July.
Then in Victoria Square, Birmingham City Centre on Friday 29 July & Saturday 30 July. Performance times 9am-11am, 1pm-3pm & 4pm-5pm
You can also take part in Taste Test on Saturday 25 June , 1–8pm at Bournville Village Festival, Linden Road, B30 1JR.
Alongside projects by Amy Ching-Yan Lam, Rajni Perera and Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi, Jon’s project is part of our programme for the Birmingham 2022 Festival. This programme is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Arts Council England, Canada House, Canada Council for the Arts and British Council.