An interview with the founders, Andrea De Jong and Hanife Hursit, of The Creative Switch: turning the spotlight on
Amplify’s Online Editor, Rupali Naik, interviews the founders of The Creative Switch on their recent growth, work, and experiences.
Last week I was honoured to interview Andrea De Jong and Hanife Hursit, the two founders of The Creative Switch, on their current work and accomplishments. The Creative Switch is an independent platform, unaffiliated with Exeter University, that aims to build and amplify creatives of colour both in and out of our university. While garnering an inclusive community and networking creatives of all arts, Creative Switch has certainly filled a gap in our predominantly white academic institution.
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, De Jong and Hursit, both third year students – the former studying liberal arts with a major in politics and international relations, the latter a history student – met when the two (and many exceptional others) worked on a video series titled ‘Black Lives Matter Discourse’ , facilitated by Legion Dance Exeter – a dance society founded on a more collaborative than competitive nature in 2018, which further devoted itself to hip hop and other commercial/fusion styles of dance as these were felt neglected in both form and understanding within the dance circles here. The three-part video series is a collaborative discussion between African-Caribbean Society, BAME Law, Feminist Society, Soul Choir, Exeter’s Alumni, and Legion, and it is well worth a watch. For myself, it is so inspiring returning to Exeter for my fourth year to find that there is a distinct feeling of change and action that is taking place by an engaged and dedicated body of students.
For myself, it is so inspiring returning to Exeter for my fourth year to find that there is a distinct feeling of change and action that is taking place by an engaged and dedicated body of students.Rupali Naik
The interview centred around our experiences of being women of colour and creatives at our university. As mentioned, Legion was founded due to a stark and apparent feeling of racism in the dance community, as well as a lack of respect and understanding for other “non-traditional” dance styles. De Jong saw that qualified dancers were turned away based on their appearance, as they were deemed unable to ‘fit in with the other girls because [they were] not blonde and tall’. Moreover, “street” dancers, and their styles, were never felt supported in the community unless they produced results at competitions or performances. De Jong followed, ‘You don’t expect things like that to happen at university and that to be said about you… You’re judged based on how you look versus on your talents’. In its third year now, Legion is seen as a truly inclusive creative community and an example to other societies.
You don’t expect things like that to happen at university and that to be said about you… You’re judged based on how you look versus on your talents.Andrea De Jong
Unsurprisingly, Hursit had similar experiences when interacting with the drama and music societies here at Exeter. In March 2020, Hursit and other students founded Opening Up Exeter during the first lockdown, which is a program that spotlights different issues, from race to climate justice, within the drama society. Hursit was motivated to do so from previous alienating experiences of auditioning for drama groups and her subsequent work as one of the group’s photographer. Reflecting, she noted how whitewashed, hostile, and awful the production was on the whole as well as to her. More importantly, she touched upon how students who do not come from the white, middle-class background that many Exeter students have historically and in-majority have originated from are unable to enjoy or feel supported in their creative hobbies, skills, and lifestyles due to such isolation. Fortunately, Hursit had also joined Soul Choir in her first year, which gave her the home and inspiration that also further influenced Creative Switch from her side.
With all this in mind, it felt so clear why the work of Creative Switch is so monumental and pertinent both in and out of Exeter University. As Hursit affirmed, ‘Our experiences shaped [The Creative Switch]. We wouldn’t have completed this without the experiences that we had at university’. Both Legion and Opening Up are still operational today, continuing to make changes. Most importantly, it is clear why and how De Jong and Hursit’s previous works leading these groups, their racialised experiences, and their minds have married so well together to produce a platform more widely focused on spotlighting creatives of colour in all creative fields; they met each other at the right time in their own personal trajectories.
Our experiences shaped [The Creative Switch]. We wouldn’t have completed this without the experiences that we had at university.Hanife Hursit
At present, the platform works by featuring creatives, either through reaching out to them or now, vice versa. Hursit highlighted the difficulty the two felt in establishing this community as the typical mode of creating a society through simple means of advertising was not enough. This kind of work requires more than that. Through the process of contacting individuals, it founded the platform with a very earnest sense of wanting to engage, support, and advance these artists of colour – something that, as this article notes, has been greatly absent for people of colour. And as of Saturday the 19th, Switch now has a live website domain.
Through the process of contacting individuals, it founded the platform with a very earnest sense of wanting to engage, support, and advance these artists of colour – something that, as this article notes, has been greatly absent for people of colour.Rupali Naik
Moreover, by being an independent society the group has been able to reach further beyond the walls of Exeter University. Through gaining momentum on their page (all social medias will be linked below), Hursit mentions how there are followers who do not attend our university but feel encouraged and comforted by seeing other creatives being supported. She continues by referring to a singer of colour outside of our university who has reached out to them due to feeling restricted in their own surroundings. Further with this, this Monday, Creative Switch had its first live interview (now embedded on their Instagram – check it out) and spotlighted recent graduate from University of East Anglia and actor, Buket Kömür. Hursit and Kömür spoke about a variety of topics from transitioning into the professional world to their shared experiences of racism or marginalisation at their universities to Netflix’s The Protector (2018-2020) and its Turkish representation. And on Sunday the 20th, De Jong will be holding a live Q&A with co-founder of Legion, Gabriella Nkom. A benefit of these quarantine times is that we’re able to utilise the internet for greater dialogue, and Creative Switch is holding true to this.
Not only does Creative Switch’s independence draw strengths by connecting with those physically beyond Exeter University, but also temporally. With little intention to leave the society here alone, De Jong and Hursit are currently deciding how to evolve and take the platform with them after they graduate. The possibilities are endless, though, as De Jong clarifies, they want to focus on building a ‘social and professional network to bridge the gap between mentors in the industry and students.’
Even in my own experience of being at this university, it has – in the past – felt futile to draw our strengths together – but it is possible. The Creative Switch is making it possible.Rupali Naik
What our interview showed me was how possible bringing together creatives of colour is. Even in my own experience of being at this university, it has – in the past – felt futile to draw our strengths together – but it is possible. The Creative Switch is making it possible. And I cannot wait to see how this community continues to grow. It was truly a pleasure to have my first interview as editor with these two, and I cannot emphases enough now how much you should check out and support The Creative Switch and these two dedicated founders.
The two may not know what is to come for Switch, but as Hursit said, ‘I’m glad that it’s here now’.
I’m glad that it’s here now.Hanife Hursit