Zahra Haji Fath Ali Tehrani works day-to-day as the director of Oxford’s Young Women’s Music Project (YWMP), an educational charity that provides free workshops for women aged 14-21. Here she reflects on her relationship with Kate Garrett, mentor, friend and founder of YWMP, ahead of Saturday’s event at Modern Art Oxford, She’s a Bird Now, which celebrates Kate’s enduring legacy.
Growing up in a family where the matriarchal figures have consistently experienced dire poverty and trauma has had a knock-on effect on me. It influenced what I thought a mother should be, the qualities and behaviours that I thought a mother needed. Trauma travels down the bloodline, and I have inherited so many deep flowing issues just from continuing these lines of women in my family.
My mother grew up on the West coast of Ireland in the 50’s. After losing her father at the age of two, and being one of 11 children, she had to fight most of her life to survive. Her daily routine consisted of violence, abuse, and the fear of god being drilled into her. Perhaps through this she was deprived of the tools she needed to be able to nurture others. I believe she did her best to raise me and my brothers in Oxford with no family present, and a partner who was very much in the same position, both away from familial support systems and their homelands.
As I reached my teen years, I realised that I longed for a connection to an older woman figure: a grandmother, an aunt, a sister, a mother. The qualities I searched for in others never seemed to materialise. In my early years so much went on in my household. I was there supporting my mum, by her side, being strong. I feel that I was never seen for who I truly was until I met Kate Garrett. As soon as I found music I found her, I was 14. I think it was the first time in my life someone asked me how I was, how I felt, what I wanted to become.
Looking back, I had no idea any of this was happening, I just knew it felt good and I wanted to be a part of it. Being a member of this project taught me that it was ok to not conform to gender stereotypes, to see the differences in how women are treated in the music industry, whilst knowing that this person had my back and was respected in the community. Through our friendship I learnt that I wanted to be able to do the same for others who may feel as lost as I did.
Losing Kate at the age of 21 was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to go through, I lost a mentor, a friend and a mother figure. She let me into her world all the way. The idea of carrying on a legacy so huge was daunting; I felt that I had a lot to prove, carrying on the name of someone I admired wholeheartedly left me feeling quite alone in this mission. But every step of the way I remember the impact that this kind of support can have on others. It’s a very human way to be there, flaws and all, not a therapeutic, plastic, fake connection, but a genuine desire, in the deep core of your being to make a difference, even in a small way, to be there, through the good and the bad.
Now, a mother myself, I can’t help but look at the women that have shaped my life, who did the best with what they had to make others feel comfortable and valued. I hope one day I will be remembered for doing the same.
She’s a Bird Now will take place on Saturday 8 June at Modern Art Oxford. Book your tickets here.