Poet and performer Inua Ellams will bring his one man tour-de-force,  Black T-Shirt Collection, to fabulous life at the Arts Centre early next month. The show is described as a modern day fable about brotherhood in a globalised world and explores the relationship between two foster brothers whose differences – one gay, one straight, one Christian, one Muslim – are nothing on the fierce bond they share.

“The play is quite a few years old now but in many ways, it has grown more relevant, ” says Ellams. “Initially, I wanted to show how the world can impact the lives of two typical Nigerian everyday boys and how what happened affected their simple friendship. I wrote various aspects of myself into the characters; they are of Christian and Muslim backgrounds, they are artistic and enterprising, they are passionate, and they are both struggling with various aspects of black masculinity. They also had to leave their country, like I had to… in many way, I wrote it for its catharsis.”

The piece explores many themes, amongst them: homophobia, brotherhood, friendship, consequence, silence, corporate social responsibility, the fashion trade, global finance, exploitation, racism, sectarian violence, religious extremism, depression, self-sacrifice. But ultimately, says Ellams,  all he’d like audiences to take from the piece is what the story is primarily about: two foster brothers, trying to sell t-shirts.

Born in Nigeria in 1984, Ellams is an internationally touring poet, playwright, performer, graphic artist & designer. He has published three booklets of poetry: Candy Coated Unicorns and Converse All Stars, Thirteen Fairy Negro Tales’ and The Wire-Headed Heathen. As an artist, the themes that interest him are truth and beauty.

Black Tshirt Collection 1 Brian Roberts

Ellams influences have been both fundamental and cosmic: ” I am a superhero comic fan, the marvel universe… and getting the human truths that underline the stories have influenced me. Terry Pratchett, James Baldwin, Aesop, Saul William, Janette Winterson, Major Jackson, Terrance Hayes, Claudia Rankine… the list is long and dizzying.

Ellams is a prolific TED talker and has spoken about black masculinity, the negative effects of masculinity and immigration. In 2010, he was long-listed for the Alfred Fagan Award for playwrights of African and Caribbean descent. Black T-Shirt Collection opens discussions about the refusal of men to talk about their feeling where we see. Mohammed and Mathew, the protagonists in the story, pay the price for this.

As a performer,  Ellams draws on his own experiences to tell stories through spoken word, bringing together some of the most pressing challenges we face right now into a playful, provocative and moving experience. Ellams says about Black T-Shirt Collection: ” If you like a good story, come. This is a good story. And I tell it well. It is also, partly a live graphic novel!”

September 5 – 10

Book at www.artscentremelbourne.com.au or 1300 182183