Ahead of the world premiere at Sheffield Doc/Fest, the new trailer debuted for the powerful documentary short film RIP SENI directed by Daisy Ifama. The film is a reaction to the ‘RIP SENI’ signs that appeared outside Bethlem Royal Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in South London following the death of a black man who died at the hands of police officers.
Overnight on 24 June 2020, graffiti reading ‘RIP SENI’ appeared on a public artwork outside Bethlem Royal Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in South London. The red spray-painted letters called attention to Seni Lewis, a 23-year-old black man who died at the hands of up to 11 police officers while in the care of the hospital in 2010.
The artwork “Some Questions About Us” had been created by Turner-prize nominee Mark Titchner and commissioned by Bethlem Gallery’s Mental Health and Justice project. It is made up of eight mirrored placards asking questions about mental capacity and assessment, creating a powerful resonance between the artwork and the new graffiti.
Reflecting multiple perspectives on this event, we hear from Seni’s friends and family, mental health professionals and Bethlem Royal Hospital service users. The film also features an intimate group discussion between Aji Lewis, Marcia Rigg, Anna Susianta and Donna Mooney, who have lost loved ones at the hands of the state.
RIP SENI looks at what happened to Seni, the crisis of mental health and racism in the UK, the long fight for justice and what happens when members of the public take art into their own hands.
Says Daisy Ifama, director, “In September 2020 I was approached by Lucy Owen at Bethlem Gallery, and Ajibola Lewis, Seni’s mother, to work collaboratively in developing a short documentary. I live in Lewisham and I’ve known the name Olaseni Lewis since I was 16 years old, but it wasn’t until working with the Lewis family, speaking with members of the United Families & Friends Campaign and reading the details of their inquest investigations that I really understood the true horror at the centre of these stories and the insidious levels the state will go to to protect itself.
In making RIP SENI Ajibola, Lucy and I wanted to explore the wide-ranging personal experiences of mental health, justice, community and art that respond to and ripple out from Seni’s story. We brought in the valuable experience of creative Lizzie Reid and producer Grace Shutti, and together we set out to focus on and raise up contributors’ lived experiences.”
Says Lucy Owen, executive producer of RIP SENI and producer of Bethlem Gallery’s Mental Health and Justice project, “Mark Titchner’s ‘Some questions about us’ asks questions of us all, and RIP SENI explores what happens when an artwork is answered. Seni’s life and death reverberates still, as does Sean Rigg’s, Jack Susianta’s, Tommy Nicol’s and many, many others. It’s easy to speak flippantly about ‘keeping a name alive’, my hope is that this film shows just how complex, how painful and how necessary it is to do so. “
Says Ajibola Lewis, Seni’s mother, “RIP SENI shines a light on the constant need for change in mental health services , the police & other state agencies where people are often unnecessarily restrained. We have to continue to get the message out there because there’s still so much work to do … we don’t want anyone else to die like Seni did and we certainly don’t want the death of restraining a person to be on the conscience of anyone. RIP SENI 🙏🏽”
Says Mark Titchner, Turner Prize nominated artist: “Some questions about us’ was intended as a work that explored boundaries. Conceived initially to consider the uncertain territory between the individual and the State and between intention and coercion; the questions it presented never suggested straightforward answers. As an artist working in the ‘public realm’ there is an implicit level of uncertainty about how an artwork is received or what it actually means to those who see it. In this case one unknown individual had a particular vision of what this artwork might be. As they transfigured the artwork, spray can in hand, something amazing happened and it became much more than I could have ever imagined. It began a conversation that led me to meet some incredible, strong people who have continued to ask the most difficult questions of the authorities and the State. Questions that urgently need to be answered.”
RIP SENI (UK Competition) will receive its World Premiere at Sheffield Doc/Fest 2021 on Sunday June 6.
Watch the trailer for RIP SENI