A colleague was kind enough to forward me the attached link on a project featuring the work of artist Neequaye Dreph Dsane. This British-Ghanaian artist is painting huge, beautiful murals of ordinary black women on London’s streets. Please take a look.
Unfortunately, despite the quality of art, I’ve found the subject of painting only black women is making headlines for the wrong reasons. It seems Dreph‘s work has come under scrutiny with claims on social media that the work is racist and unnecessary in a modern society. I disagree entirely with those who feel such work in the public realm is wrong and I would champion other underrepresented groups to do the same, provided it is executed with the aim of creating aesthetically pleasing, therapeutic and social benefits to public spaces . There are many artists painting work which is publicly displayed that does not include people of colour but I wouldn’t claim such work to be racist. However, maybe I should?
Disappointingly, some people remain ignorant and naive regarding the disproportional levels of black female representation in the media and have not questioned the mechanisms that sustain this flaw. The artist’s work appears to address this and balance an issue that undermines the very idea of equality or equal representation in a modern democratised society. He is celebrating his cultural heritage proudly as he should. When we explore mainstream art and media, we should note that the most underrepresented groups of people are black women and the physically disabled. You just have to look at British television to see that the representation is still falling short and its depiction of BMEs remains stereotypical in the main. In modern British society, the depiction of people of colour, their cultures and contributions remain marginalised or even trivialised.
Most art galleries in art hubs in cities such as London and New York are primarily owned or managed by white proprietors. The feeling amongst many groups is they tend to showcase work by white or European artists for predominantly white audiences. Perhaps this perception is wrong but it remains a perception. Yes, there are shows and exhibitions that showcase the work of other demographics and prominent artists of colour but are these isolated cases, where the decisions to exhibit are linked to minimal levels of financial risk for curators, galleries or museums with expected commercial returns? This I guess is a reflection of the sector, its market and interest of those investing in art, which is something I’d like to address later.
Black women on our screens, magazines and billboards may have improved over the last twenty years, just like employment figures, but significant steps towards change must be made. In this day and age, it is disappointing to know that significant players, for example in advertising and media, feel certain ‘looks’ and ‘features’ don’t sell or exhibit the wrong image unless you’ve got the ‘Beyonce or Rihanna look’ which is seen as more palatable. If people in positions of authority are able to reflect society, exhibit a broader church of representation, to celebrate differences and embrace ‘multiculturalism’ we wouldn’t need to go down this road of discussion. Such excellent work, like others around London would be seen for what they are- works of art! However, as it is art so it will also provoke discussion, like, dislike and controversy. If anyone feels voiceless and underrepresented, is it right to ignore it and wrong to challenge it?
Whilst I’ve focused on the wrongs of some who contribute to the status quo, the blame cannot lay solely with them. Disenfranchised groups and communities who do not see a balance of representation must address this by investing in, championing and promoting art that reflects them. Moving forward, if they do not see it, like Dreph, they must support and independently create platforms which allow them to. This includes art on our streets, buildings and anywhere within the public realm, bringing art to the masses. There are some things you will not value if you cannot see. Moreover, there are some things others will not value until they see more of it. In conclusion, this isn’t so much about Dreph’s choice of subject but more a reflection of how damaged our society is and what we must do collectively to fix it. What do you think? I’d be happy to hear views and opinions.
For further information on Neequaye Dreph Dsane please visit http://dreph.co.uk