Celebrating Poly Styrene

Poly Styrene was an icon and visionary. Of Anglo-Somali heritage, she was the first woman of colour to front a successful rock band, and was a key inspiration for the riot grrrl and Afropunk movements in Britain. Her sparse, potent lyrics still resound today.

The documentary Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché,features unseen archive material and rare diary entries and follows Poly’s daughter, Celeste as she examines her mother’s artistic archive and traverses three continents to better understand Poly the icon and Poly the mother. Ahead of her time, Poly had to endure misogyny, racism, and misdiagnosis, all of which caused lasting trauma and scarred Celeste’s childhood and the pair’s relationship.

However, Celeste has become proud guardian of her mother’s legacy, and is the co-author of the book Dayglo and co-director of the documentary.

The discussion covered how significant Poly was as a role model to kids struggling to fit in to mainstream society.

"Mixed race, young and wearing bonkers outfits and dental braces, her simple but powerful message was that it was OK to be different because everyone is special.” – Dave Simpson

She made the political personal, situating herself in the struggle of post-war Britain in which her Somali father had landed as a stowaway in the docklands of London’s east end. She fashioned herself as a living art piece, creating her own mythology through her idiosyncratic lyrics and style of dress that subverted (often toxic) mainstream narratives. Her work spoke to the moment, but also transcended it, making her just as relevant today.

My question: What is Poly’s legacy for young girls today who feel they want to be famous, was put to each of the panelists in turn to sum up the evening.

She embodied independence and bravery that will hopefully echo down through the generations.

She gives you the permission to be yourself, to embrace your own weirdness. If you can’t see something, you can be it and do it, unapologetically. Be brave, be loud, be ourselves.

She was true to herself, always. She never let anyone tell her what to be.

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