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The Complex Origins of Complex

Abdul Dube

Written by: Abdul Dube

I have a fascination with both text and (drawn) images. I have been actively merging the two for quite some time. This article informs my praxis and contributes to the way I view making knowledge available, especially ways that I have been fortunate to work on. I must be honest here with you all and say this text has been one part easy, but more so I had to live through systems and structures of oppression that most white folk won’t ever encounter. So, I wanted to write this with the ease of making the text reflect both my internal space (response) but also the reactionary activist in me — let me also make clear that for most of this work I have pick up (deep listening), read about it and sat in affinity dialogue circles.

I was born on the other side of the colour line so to speak, many years down the line I am living in the Nordics navigating the “cultural worker and art making/doing” scene, at times I have also been the only person that would bring up the topic of racist structures, systems and daunting policies one experiences as a black body. This has played havoc on my mental health at times as I or any concerning black person needed to fill the “teacher role” – and let me say it here, LOUD and CLEAR, as much as I love sharing what I dig out in this hyper knowledge highway, the reality is its tiring!

So dear white folk, “consider this” – I implore you to dismantle these tyrannies that would much rather see us fight and be distracted to the fact that, our unifying heritage is our difference, our difference in seeing, feeling, loving, making, thinking – you get the point!

I was invited to open the seminar Complex complicities – a small but very important step towards creating Nordic discourse about antiracist and feminist practices in Nordic contemporary stages. And as such my go to method is to break down the meaning / meanings that is lodged in words – I wanna know where words originate from, and then lunge into meaning making and knowledge sharing – join me:


COMPLEX — /ˈkɒm.pleks/ /kəmˈpleks/ – The Complex Origins of Complex


The word complex lives up to its name, as it contains multiple parts of speech and senses. It serves as an adjective, a noun, and, less commonly, as a verb. The verb use is the oldest of the three, with an original meaning of “to join or unite”. Complex comes from the Latin complecti, which means “to entwine around, to embrace”, a word that is based in part on plectere (“to braid”). English has a number of other words that can be traced to plectere, including perplex, plexus (“an intricately interwoven combination of elements or parts in a cohering structure”), and amplexus (“the mating embrace of some amphibians, such as frogs and toads”).  – Merriam Webster dictionary

A mind map that has the words 'complexities, verb' in the center. Four lines leave from the center to different directions. In the end of each line is one word: entangle, complexify, complicate and perplex.

Complicities — kəm-ˈpli-s(ə-)tē

These words ultimately derive from the Latin verb meaning “to fold together,” complicare, formed by combining com- (meaning “with,” “together,” or “jointly”) and the verb plicare, meaning “to fold.” Complicit literally means “folded together”. Of course, “folded together” may be the literal meaning of this Latin root, but it has become the figurative meaning in the English word complicit: its definition “helping to commit a crime or do wrong in some way” is a description of individuals thick as thieves, with their motives and actions “folded together” metaphorically. Complicity and its cousins accomplice, complicitous, and complice are all part of this gang. – Merriam Webster dictionary

A mind map that has the words 'complicities, synonyms' in the center. Two lines leave from the center to opposite directions. Both lines have one word in the end: collusion and connivance.

It’s fair to say here that the topic for the seminar was to enlist the actors in the performance scene to join in on the work that lies at everyone’s doorstep.

Dismantling structural & systemic racism, identifying and viewing these particular challenges with intersectional black queer feminist lenses. Why, well the plain answer I can give here is that, ITS ABOUT TIME you all!!

As I was putting together my talk, I spoke in length to Sall Lam Toro and Felis Dos about Complex Complicities and wow, we went to the depths of our own herstories and the strategies that brought us to this exact point – may I take the chance here to introduce you to Collective Humus, not Hummus (((LOL))).


“Humus,” the original component of soil, has the same root as “human.” Humans are the earthy ones; we originate from soil.  As Humus, we want to inspire the cultivation of collective and collaborative responses against fierce competition and regressive individualism. As humus collective, we want to elaborate strategies to rebuild “a world that contains other worlds”, rather than excluding those worlds and ideas that do not align with dominant views.


Our collective stories are linked to the fact that our lineages come from the global south – AFRICA, Brasil, Guinea Bassau and South Africa. We now work and create in Denmark and surroundings. We are here and have been here for a while, as members of the art community that too often gets labelled by the state as mere “minorities” although we are folk from the “Global Majority”. In just that last line your read the challenge so many of us experience on a day to day living amongst europeans. The term “Global Majority” is coined by Rosemary Campbell Stevens, a black women and educator working in the UK. It´s use, contra to minorities is to have an inclusive and affirming name for racialised groups and to affirm the power of non-white people.

As the invited keynote speaker, I wanted to both speak to and from a place that is generative, that enlivens both performer, viewer of the arts – I crafted my keynote around the Jamaican-born British Marxist sociologist, cultural theorist, and political activist Stuart Hall (read as many of his works as you can muster.)

I started with a reading, a speech Stuart gave back in 9th December 2008, he articulated what was weighing on my heart. His words better articulate what I could have ever said … here are some of excerpts from that speech:



“Cultural diversity is the name we give to a certain kind of “learning”, which gives us insight into the inner landscape of how other people live their lives, how they experience and dream their worlds ; how they cope with the broken hopes and possibilities of making a new life in a strange land.”

“This is a kind of “knowledge” that teaches us how to listen and look, to learn through listening and looking, and vice versa”.


This speech captured my imagination as it outlined a way forward, but as my brain works it also ignited a fire to bring the “listening” and “looking” forward via some tools that I think becomes bridges for folks to use in dialogue with one another.

I dove deeper into some texts and books and experiences I have had whilst both being facilitator and team leader for groups doing change work – firstly Ting is the Chinese character which means “to listen”. Its ancient wisdom teaches much more about listening to the content than just hearing the words. Ting explains that listening is multidimensional.

The chinese character 'ting' in the middle. Around it six pieces of text in English: be present, see, focus, feel, be respectful and hear.

Most people listen with their ears and occasionally with their eyes. Ting invites you to explore an extra listening dimension – listen for energy – listen to what they feel.

This broadens Stuart’s words by giving us a means to see the holistic nature of listening to another, it’s not just about hearing – from here I wanted to share dialogical tools, namely Liberating Structures – ((1-2-4 All)). Liberating Structures are easy-to-learn microstructures that enhance relational coordination and trust.)) In typical gatherings those with loudest voice seemingly get the point across, but to get everyone actively listening we need something to assist – 1-2-4 All Engages Everyone Simultaneously-

The structure of the Liberating Structures – ((1-2-4 All)). On the left it reads 'consider these in your next gathering'. On top of the structure is a drawing of a laptop, which has the website open. On the left side of the laptop a yellow speech bubble reads 'including and unleashing everyone' and below the speech bubble reads 'liberating structures'. From the text 'liberating structures' an arrow points below to a text 'reveal who is who in the room'. Below that it reads '"modelled" dialogues' from which an arrow points to the right, curving upwards. On top of this arrow reads in big bold black characters 124 ALL. Above number one reads in tiny red characters '1 min self reclection'. Below the number two reads in tiny red characters 'find another in the room and share to each 1 min your reflection'. Above number four reads '2 persons find another 2, to share 1 min each their reflections'. Below ALL reads 'plenum session whove you pick "popcorn" style some reflections from the group...'. On the left side of the 124 ALL are four read arrows, which point to a text that reads 'cross pollinate what is alive for the persons in your sessions. a sort of temperature check in'.

Now we have two things covered, listening and a simple but elegant way to host dialogue. My grandmother always spoke of things coming in 3’s so here is a bit more. How do we look at challenges, how do we allow ourselves to see the challenges – from my work at the School of Systems Change, let’s take a quick look at the ICEBERG model.

The core concept of the model is to help you see below the waterline of structures, groups, organizations and states. This simple model becomes a great resource for the group trying to do change work.

A drawing of an iceberg with text inside and around the drawing. On the top it reads 'the iceberg model'. The part of the iceberg which is above the water reads 'EVENTS' and below that 'what is happening?'. The first section below the waterline reads 'PATTERNS OF BEHAVIOUR' and 'what patterns are noticeable over time?'. Below this text is another line and after that more text, which reads 'UNDERLYING STRUCTURES' and 'what has influenced these structures?'. Under the third and last line, on the bottom of the iceberg drawing, reads 'MENTAL MODELS' and 'what assumptions, beliefs, values do people hold about the system/structure?'.

Now armed with these three take-aways knowingly it is but the tip of the iceberg so to speak – yet I wish for you to use what is relevant to you or pass it forward to whom you might think it can benefit.


This text has been produced as part of BRIDGES, a project designed to strengthen sustainable and long-term Nordic collaboration in the realms of antiracist and intersectionally feminist practices. The project is funded by Nordic Culture Point and produced by UrbanApa arts platform based in Helsinki.