I was involved in a conversation regarding youth crime and creating safer communities through public arts programmes . The conversation covered everything from parenting, television and game consoles to education and life long learning. However, it surprised me that some people do not see the relevance of what we eat and how this contributes our mental state, nurtured by our physical environment.
Government statistics and school surveys continue to monitor the educational attainment of our children, paying particular attention to the variances of sex and ethnic background. I believe more emphasis should be placed on food and the provision of nutritional meals. Surely this must be relative to performance and surely Michelin chef Jamie Oliver’s high profiled investigation into school meals suggest we do more?
School monitoring has explored the performance of minority groups and most notably focused on the under achievement of black boys. National statistics in general also tell of disproportionate levels of blacks confined to prisons, mental health institutes, unemployment, low paid jobs and having fewer opportunities to reach their potential. The connected reasons and figures seem to be overlooked by right wing newspapers, happy to promote statistics released under freedom of information laws. One issue highlighted is the suggestion black men are responsible for two-thirds of shootings, robberies and street crimes in London.
So where am I going with this? Unfortunately I don’t have a magic wand but I do believe a collaborative approach to solving such problems is needed. It must include local professionals, parents and leaders within our communities involved in monitoring all of the aforementioned areas. Public art initiatives involving deprived or underachieving members of communities will also help and may be a preventative measure. We cannot leave it to the state to only take an interest in neglected members of our society during the run up to local and national elections just for votes
The conversation reminded me of Lliaila Afrika’s book Nutricide. The book provides a comprehensive analysis of the economics of food manipulation and the historical impact of nutritional deficiencies on the psyche of both white and African Americans. Personally, I found it very thought provoking. It is a controversial book some may find difficult to.. ‘digest’ if you pardon the punt. The book provides facts and figures on how Uncle Sam benefits from the average Joes ignorance about junk food, poor nutrition and its contribution to mental illness, emotional disturbances particularly amongst children and the breakdown of communities. Without generalising I have travelled to many cities and I do notice the ‘high crime’ areas tend to be those with a plethora of fast food outlets, liquor stores and not much else!
The author’s research uncovers the historical differences in diets between Europeans and Africans and highlights the negative impact a particular western diet has. I’m no expert but surely there is some truth in his message that diet is a very important component determining the path of our youths. Maybe, just as we are products of your environment, we are products of what that environment continues to eat?
We all need a little art therapy! We are constantly made aware of new forms of art therapy providing some psychological, physical or social benefit for a targeted group, an unfortunate patient or a statemented child. In truth, we are all in constant need of treatment. There is a great deal of evidence that art provides therapeutic benefits for every individual and those regularly using public buildings. Carefully chosen, the shapes, colours and atmosphere created by paintings, murals, sculptures or installations have a beneficial effect on hospital patients and staff, school children and communities in general. Art provides stimulation and may add, if not create an appropriate feel for an area. Moreover, it provides ‘landmarks’ the communities can associate with.
With the present UK Government’s debate over the free schools, the continuing growth of foundation hospitals and a very ambitious overhaul to public buildings and services, the competence of all our professionals delivering public services should not be dismissed. Aside from a skilled workforce, studies show the public’s perception of the quality of school, the cleanliness of our healthcare buildings or simply the appeal of the hotel we’ve decided to stay at on holiday is shaped, to a large degree, by the image and appearance presented. This is not only based on the architectural merits or esthetics of the building but the quality of its interior design of which art plays such an integral part.
With so much riding on the outcome of planning and selecting processes, public art cannot afford to be an afterthought. As with the interior and architectural planning processes, a successful art programme/project involves many hours of complicated problem solving. The design process requires planning the equipment, flooring, wall covering, and furniture acquisition. The system requires budgeting from the onset of a construction or renovation of project. The approach in selecting artists or incorporating art should be no different.
Just my little banter as I read through various articles on funding for art projects being cut! Art is important now more than ever.
Growing up in the UK, I was brought up on a strict diet of soca, soul, funk and what I describe as real RnB! A majority of quality Soul and RnB artists I listened to were American. Of course, there were exceptions such as the UK’s Loose Ends, Soul to Soul, Omar and Total Contrast to name a few. The Brits 2011 ended with Britain’s Tinie Tempah endorsed as an exponent of British Talent. So are UK acts a force to be reckoned with? I’m keen to witness the success of British Soul/RnB’s acts and their world domination! One act I will have the pleasure of working with on a charity project later this year is Nadine Charles.
Since winning the Nokia Prince’s Trust Unsigned Award in 2005, Nadine has performed alongside major recording artists such as Common, Faith Evans, Craig David, Estelle and Kano, going from strength to strength. I asked her a few questions about her career and the industry.
An obvious question to ask is when did you start singing?
From a really young age. I can always remember being surrounded by music and singing along.
You studied Law and Business. Did you ever have an interest in pursuing a different career?
Not really. My parents encouraged all of us to get an education so I decided to do Law which I thought would be interesting. And it was BUT I knew I wasn’t going to be a lawyer because although I enjoyed the course it wasn’t for me.
What has been a determining factor in your success so far?
It’s my passion, my calling. If I gave up I would be doing myself an injustice. When I’m not doing music, I’m not happy so I continue.
Which acts have been most influential on your career?
I was influenced a lot, by the music my parents listened to. Millie Jackson, Minnie Riperton, Aretha Franklin, and Bob Marley to name a few then many 90’s acts like Jodeci, Faith Evans. When I look at the people who have influenced me, like me they are mainly singer/songwriters and put a lot of soul into their music. You can really feel their love or pain when you listen to their material. That’s what I want to do.
What has been the highest accolade in your career to date?
I guess winning Best Unsigned act in 2005 at the Nokia Prince’s Trust Urban Music Festival. But I’m proud of my EP that I did in 2009 too. I wrote most of it and it was well received here and world wide. Currently I’m in the running for an Urban Visual Award for Most visual video for my single “You Are the One”. Apparently I’m doing well, but to be honest, I’m just honoured to have been considered. These awards are being held in Atlanta, Georgia so unfortunately I won’t make the ceremony though.
You’ve worked with numerous successful acts. Is there anyone who stands out and why?
I always enjoy working with Dego from 4hero. He’s like an uncle to me and I can learn so much from him. He’s a musical genius but so humble. It’s refreshing.
The profile of UK based Soul /RnB or so called ‘urban’ acts appears to be on a rise. Do you think the industry’s major labels are more confident to endorse black British acts?
Not really. The amount of “Urban” acts that are successful is not reflective of the talent that is really out here. I’ve been doing this for a while and not much has changed. But it is what it is. You either grumble and moan or get on with it. Try and find an alternative route. Luckily I have many supporters in Europe and the states, actually worldwide. So I feel appreciated nevertheless.
You’re an attractive woman modeling in addition to singing. Do you think looks continue to play a big factor in the success of up and coming acts, particularly women?
Thank you. Yep, definitely looks play a role. When you hear an artist and you like them, you do your research and want to find out what they look like etc. The nicer the package, the more interest they will get. However, I think that if someone is really talented, if they don’t fit the mould perfectly, they can still be accepted and marketable. The consumer is not as superficial as some of the industry seems to think, i.e. Adele is not a size zero but she sells out all her shows, because she is a great artist.
A sensitive question for many, do you think your career is hindered anyway through race and colour? It always a controversial issue in most industries but how institutionally racist is the music industry?
Possibly. I think that the industry are more likely to capitalise on a Caucasian with a soulful voice even if they might not even be half as good as some of the many black artists I know that are out there struggling. Maybe they think it’s more marketable and rare. So it’s a bit of a gimmick.
We’re exploring a fund raising art and music event later this year but what else do you have in the pipeline?
I’m supporting a lot of great acts such as Omar, Jon B and Carl Thomas in the next month and I’m doing some collaborations as well as getting back on track with my solo project. I’m going to be very busy this year!
It is always uplifting to see a creative mind at work. Moreover it’s inspirational to see the gift of talent, skill and selfless thought executed to help others. A very gifted friend, Kerys Nathan has just launched her book ‘Conscious Living’ aimed at helping everyone reach their full potential. Your support in buying the book will benefit many youngsters as 20% of proceeds are being donated to charities via ‘The Legend Lives on foundation’ giving children the chance to become all that they can without the threat of restriction or abuse! The rest will be put towards the provision of a creative and personal development course for Kids in Care.
‘In order to create true genius, you have to live by the rhythm of your heart and not by the expectations of others!”…
I’ve heard various artist, wealthy collectors and VIPs say London has become the Mecca for the visual arts. It is said, collectors arrive in London from all over the world because there is more to see and do, at any one time, than anywhere else! Is that true and is there enough variety in what’s available to see? Some say New York isn’t as great as it was and institutes such as the Guggenheim fall short of the quality of shows exhibited at the National Gallery, Saatchi, the Tate, and British Museum. I disagree with this notion because it’s all subjective and determined by the artworld’s elite and their perception of what is ‘contemporary’ what is ‘good’ or just commercially viable. London or New York, I’m not convinced mainstream galleries and museums could afford to stray away from what will be seen as commercially viable and entertain the greatest percentage of art buyers and followers. This is especially true in today’s financial climate where funding has literally disappeared, notably for smaller local projects. Artists need to promote themselves and each other to a variance of audiences, in a variety of environments with an ability to engage with community groups, art buyers and society as a whole. Money and resources are in short supply. Artist cannot rely on funding opportunities, a gallery space or a great website. All of the aforementioned help but a more proactive and collective approach, married to more community centred work is necessary, not only for the survival of the individual artist but for championing the importance of art as part of our social fabric
Last month I had the pleasure of attending a group exhibition entitled ‘Art in Mind’ organised by The Brick Lane Gallery London. This is an ongoing group exhibition offering emerging artists a platform to showcase their work to a fresh and growing London audience. One of the artists is photographer Elizabeth James. She kindly agreed to share her thoughts on her preferred medium and the prospect of exhibiting for the first time.
How did you get into Photography?
It was something natural that just happened. I remember as a little girl looking down in to the viewfinder of my mum’s old Baby Rollie Flex 4×4. I was fascinated with the camera itself, its mechanisms, how it worked and the end results; which in those days were not instant, film was sent away to be developed. I was 9 when I got my 1st automatic camera, through trial and error I learnt and for my 18th birthday, mum gave me my first SLR camera, a Pentax which I still have.
Which photographer has influenced you the most?
Irving Penn, an American photographer known for his still life, portraiture and fashion photography (world war2 feminine chic and glamour photographs. Penn created images of great clarity and detail. This is something I aspire to achieve in my own work utilising my own artistic instincts and photographic vision. His subjects were vastly varied and his prints have a clean/clear appearance. Whatever the subject, his composition stands out; his work is confident and bold. I find his approach to his subject very similar to mine. I enjoy capturing parts or sections of my subjects and leave a little to the imagination. Like Penn, I strive to capture the essence of my subjects.
Photography, controversially, has at times been perceived differently to other visual art forms. Do you see yourself as an artist and your skill as an art form or something bespoke?
It took a long time for photography to be accepted as an art form. Photography is to document, express, create, visualise and record. It is a combination of subjective thought, creative imagination, visual design, technical skill and practical ability. The camera is a visual notebook affording the user power and purpose and it is also a powerful medium of persuasion and propaganda.
You had your first public exhibition last month. How did it make you feel and what’s next?
Yes, I exhibited 6 Boxed Canvas Photographs as part of Monochrome- an Art in Mind Exhibition at The Brick Lane Gallery London E1. Opening night was very exciting; there was a very good turnout and an indescribable atmosphere. It was more than I ever imagined. It was so nice to finally see my work hanging in a popular and established gallery in London. I am currently putting together a few exhibition proposals for 2011-2012, whilst establishing contacts within the art industry, with a view to collaborating on projects, creating a web presence and building a body of work focusing on structure & architecture. I hope to have my work published, gain further commissions and opportunities to exhibit
What would be your advice to other budding photographers wishing to establish their careers?
My advice would be: don’t be put off by mixed opinions, try to come to terms with rejection, not everyone will like or appreciate your work. Listen to constructive criticism, take it on board, address it, learn from it and move on. Stay focused, persistent and just do what come naturally to you. Enter competitions, submit and apply, if you don’t inquire you will never know if it was your style of work they are looking for. When submitting, do your research, only supply what is required.
Populating my blogsite with some interesting reading, I came across this article on Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi is seen as a great civil rights leader but according to the following article many people’s views on this leader’s fight for democracy should be challenged!
My view of Gandhi wasn’t great, particularly after learning of his stance on black/white equally whilst living in South Africa. My perception of him changed dramatically after finding he considered Indians in apartheid South Africa “fellow colonists” along with the white colonists, over the indigenous Blacks.
Thomas C Mountain, the author of ‘ Why Do India’s Dalits Hate Gandhi? paints an alarming picture of a man history has presented as a freedom fighter and humanitarian.
Thomas C Mountain In India, supposedly the worlds largest democracy, the leadership of the rapidly growing Dalit movement have nothing good to say about Mohandas K. Gandhi. To be honest, Gandhi is actually one of the most hated Indian leaders in the hierarchy of those considered enemies of India’s Dalits or “untouchables” by the leadership of India’s Dalits.
Many have questioned how could I dare say such a thing?
In reply I urge people outside of India to try and keep in mind my role as the messenger in this matter. I am the publisher of the Ambedkar Journal, founded in 1996, which was the first publication on the internet to address the Dalit question from the Dalits viewpoint. My co-editor is M. Gopinath, who includes in his c.v. being Managing Editor of the Dalit Voice newspaper and then going on to found Times of Bahujan, national newspaper of the Bahujan Samaj Party, India’s Dalit party and India’s youngest and third largest national party. The founding President of the Ambedkar Journal was Dr. Velu Annamalai, the first Dalit in history to achieve a Ph.d in Engineering. My work with the Dalit movement in India started in 1991 and I have been serving as one of the messengers to those outside of India from the Dalit leaders who are in the very rapid process of organizing India’s Dalits into a national movement. The Dalit leadership I work with received many tens of millions of votes in the last national election in India. With that out of the way, let’s get back to the 850 million person question, why do Dalits hate M.K. Gandhi?
To start, Gandhi was a so called “high caste.” High castes represent a small minority in India, some 10-15f the population, yet dominate Indian society in much the same way whites ruled South Africa during the official period of Apartheid. Dalits often use the phrase Apartheid in India when speaking about their problems.
The Indian Constitution was authored by Gandhi’s main critic and political opponent, Dr.Ambedkar, for whom our journal is named and the first Dalit in history to receive an education (if you have never heard of Dr. Ambedkar I would urge you to try and keep an open mind about what I am saying for it is a bit like me talking to you about the founding of the USA when you have never heard of Thomas Jefferson).
Most readers are familiar with Gandhi’s great hunger strike against the so called Poona Pact in 1933. The matter which Gandhi was protesting, nearly unto death at that, was the inclusion in the draft Indian Constitution, proposed by the British, that reserved the right of Dalits to elect their own leaders. Dr. Ambedkar, with his degree in Law from Cambridge, had been chosen by the British to write the new constitution for India. Having spent his life overcoming caste based discrimination, Dr. Ambedkar had come to the conclusion that the only way Dalits could improve their lives is if they had the exclusive right to vote for their leaders, that a portion or reserved section of all elected positions were only for Dalits and only Dalits could vote for these reserved positions.
Gandhi was determined to prevent this and went on hunger strike to change this article in the draft constitution. After many communal riots, where tens of thousands of Dalits were slaughtered, and with a leap in such violence predicted if Gandhi died, Dr. Ambedkar agreed, with Gandhi on his death bed, to give up the Dalits right to exclusively elect their own leaders and Gandhi ended his hunger strike. Later, on his own death bed, Dr. Ambedkar would say this was the biggest mistake in his life, that if he had to do it all over again, he would have refused to give up Dalit only representation, even if it meant Gandhi’s death.
As history has shown, life for the overwhelming majority of Dalits in India has changed little since the arrival of Indian independence over 50 years ago. The laws written into the Indian Constitution by Dr. Ambedkar, many patterned after the laws introduced into the former Confederate or slave states in the USA during reconstruction after the Civil War to protect the
freed black Americans, have never been enforced by the high caste dominated Indian court system and legislatures. A tiny fraction of the “quotas” or reservations for Dalits in education and government jobs have been filled. Dalits are still discriminated against in all aspect of life in India’s 650,000 villages despite laws specifically outlawing such acts. Dalits are the victims of economic embargos, denial of basic human rights such as access to drinking water, use of public facilities and education and even entry to Hindu temples.
This is one of the golden rules of Dalit liberation, that varna means color, and that Hinduism is a form of racially based oppression and as such is the equivalent of Apartheid in India. Dalits feel that if they had the right to elect their own leaders they would have been able to start challenging the domination of the high castes in Indian society and would have begun the long walk to freedom so to speak. They blame Gandhi and his hunger strike for preventing this. So there it is, in as few words as possible, why in today’s India the leaders of India’s Dalits hate M.K. Gandhi.
This is, of course, an oversimplification. India’s social problems remain the most pressing in the world and a few paragraphs are not going to really explain matters to anyone’s satisfaction. The word Dalit and the movement of a crushed and broken people, the “untouchables” of India, is just beginning to become known to most of the people concerned about human rights in the world. As Dalits organize themselves and begin to challenge caste based rule in India, it behooves all people of good conscience to start to find out what the Dalits and their leadership are fighting for. A good place to start is with M.K. Gandhi and why he is so hated by Dalits in India.
Thomas C. Mountain is the publisher of the Ambedkar Journal on India’s Dalits, founded in 1996. His writing has been featured in Dalit publications across India, including the Dalit Voice and the Times of Bahujan as well as on the front pages of the mainstream, high caste owned, Indian press. He would recommend viewing of the award winning film “Bandit Queen” as the best example of life for women and Dalits in India’s villages, which is the story of the life of the late, brutally murdered, Phoolan Devi, of whose international defense committee Thomas C. Mountain was a founding member.