The world is reminding us of how fragile modern society is. I’m becoming frightened to switch on the TV, read the paper or catch up on tweets in case I hear of another modern day lynching of innocent African Americans, terrorist atrocities or corrupt and untrustworthy politicians fighting off party political and military coups. In previous blogs I’ve paid reference to forthcoming projects I wish to share. I’m not quite there yet but it’s timely to address some of the above issues as they feature strongly in the material I’m working on. Please watch this space and more importantly, look after yourself and each other.
“We cannot change the past, but we can change our attitude toward it. Uproot guilt and plant forgiveness. Tear out arrogance and seed humility. Exchange love for hate.”
I’m undecided which way to vote and need to consider to what extent the EU provides opportunities I can personally take advantage of. In theory, access to Europe and the freedom of movement is great but a rise in far right politics, nationalism, Islamophobia and continued discrimination, particularly against ethnic groups, doesn’t encourage me to think we are closer to practicing the harmonious union of nation states our leaders advocate. Many groups consider it difficult enough in the UK so will Europe, with all its challenges, be any easier for citizens with non-European origins to move freely? It’s all about perspective.
For most people, the Brexit issue didn’t appear life threatening but with the vote less than a month away, Brits are now considering the benefits of staying in. Despite the scaremongering and poor performance of leading politicians explaining the issues, we do need to consider if benefits of lower prices, more jobs and increased trade will be at stake.
The UK economy is undoubtedly strong and has benefited from being in Europe. Whilst the ‘Out Campaigners’ argue Britain is the fifth largest economy and can survive on its own, we should consider whether its economic ranking is a direct consequence of having preferential access and influence on the EU trading block comprising of half a billion people. We also need to consider the view of the Bank of England and IMF who provide an overview of the UK’s likely performance as a consequence of exiting. There remains a belief by many that Britain is in a position to command the same political and economic clout as it did at the peak of is colonial empire but this simply isn’t true, particularly with the rise of new global economic blocks and their growing influence on the political sphere. There are so many things to consider such as what is right for businesses, particularly small enterprises and how will they compete on a world market?
So what does this mean for the UK Arts sector?
In theory, being in the European market opens up opportunities for its creative industries. European Union funding nourishes and protects innovation in the UK and it is hoped such benefits will continue. Arts funding has historically been one of the first areas to be cut by UK Governments in periods of austerity so would a UK Government exiting the EU act differently during what may be a financially turbulent time?
The vibrancy of our arts sector is one of Britain’s great qualities. It is an arts superpower and home to recognised artists, musicians, filmmakers and theatrical impresarios. The UK is apparently the second-largest exporter of television in the world, worth £1.2bn in 2012 and home to the second-largest design sector on the planet, worth £131m in exports in 2011. The EU is Britain’s second-largest export market for music. Approximately 1.6 million people in the UK are employed in the creative sector, pumping out £71.4bn in gross value added. Of course, this is the result of the talent and drive of individuals in the British arts sector but there is no doubt that EU membership and funding from the EU’s Creative Europe initiative has and will continue to be been a contributing factor.
So Yes or No?
I’ll be the first to say the EU is not at all perfect and I do have my concerns about how the UK handles immigration and its economy. Is it right for Britain to throw away 40 years membership of one of the most lucrative markets on its doorstep, not to mention once again jeopardize the continuation of the union of the UK with a possible second Scottish referendum? What will all this mean for the creative industries? I’d love to hear your views. It’s time for UK arts professionals to speak up and vote!
A fellow artist and friend kindly forwarded this TED video featuring conceptual artist Sanford Biggers. I thought to share it. The artist uses painting, sculpture, video and performance to spark challenging conversations about the history and trauma of black America. He details two compelling works and shares the motivation behind his art. “Only through more thoughtful dialogue about history and race can we evolve as individuals and society,” Biggers says.
Most of my blog posts focus on the arts and the creative world but I do occasionally like to delve into the realms of politics, society and history. A number of years ago, I posted a less than favourable blog on Gandhi and why some Indians disliked him. I recently came across another article on this man, who still remains one of the most iconic figures associated with civil rights, equality and the beginning the fall of the British Empire.
A controversial new book by two South African university professors reveals shocking details about Gandhi’s life in South Africa between 1893 and 1914, before he returned to India.
Whilst in South Africa, Gandhi routinely expressed “disdain for Africans,” says S. Anand, founder of Navayana, the publisher of the book titled “The South African Gandhi: Stretcher-Bearer of Empire.” The book combs through Gandhi’s own writings during the period and government archives and paints a portrait that is at variance with how the world regards him today. Please read the attached article url . This sounds like a book to add to my collection.
This week I found the subjects of a black boycott of the Oscars and UK black actors furthering their careers overseas quite interesting. Fundamentally, the Oscars are meant to celebrate high quality filmmaking, irrespective of ethnicity. Historically, Hollywood has had a problem representing people who aren’t white Americans or European. Moreover, one questions how the Academy celebrates the achievements of actors, producers and directors presenting a more positive, diverse and progressive perspective of filmmaking. I understand a significant and growing percentage of filmgoers in America are from minority groups so there should be some reflection of this on screen and in what the Academy considers award worthy. It has a responsibility to be more reflective and less bias towards its telling of history, its summary of the present and its vision of the future, which half the time paints a very bleak if not non existent picture for those of a darker hue. The Academy’s issues come as no surprise when the decision makers are predominantly white middle aged men, disengaged with a wider society.
White middle aged men, responsible for this kind of gatekeeping, equally suppress black expression and representation in UK arts. They remain gatekeepers in how particularly the western world sees itself and more importantly what it values. This isn’t a new phenomenon because, for a number of years, creative professionals from minority groups, including musicians, performing artists, writers and painters have looked abroad for a beacon of hope and opportunity, to master their talents and feed their aspirations. As a London born artist, I have found some solace in New York, knowing there is a greater degree of support, comradery amongst peers and opportunity to work in chosen fields, with less emphasis on colour. That’s not to say things are completely flawless however. So what is the problem with the UK? Surely there must be a limit on how many period dramas are made and writing negative stereotypical or token roles into depressing soaps operas like EastEnders are by no means the solution.
Whilst this gatekeeping issue is a challenge and we identify culprits responsible for its maintenance, we must also hold ourselves responsible for implementing change, either through boycotting industries or being more vocal and visible in our demand for it.
I have tremendous respect and admiration for David Oyelowo, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Idris Elba and others for their success so far. They provide encouragement and hope, despite the odds, to persevere with international careers. I’m equally glad such talented people are realising they must seek opportunities wherever doors are open. Perhaps the grass is greener on the other side? I’m interested to hear others views on this matter.
As my exhibition comes to an end I’ve been taking time to check out a number of exhibitions and events currently available to see. Two very interesting exhibitions are at New York’s Schomburg Centre in Harlem.
The centre celebrates the 75th anniversary of our renowned American Negro Theatre (ANT). Known to the locals as “The Harlem Library Little Theatre,” the ANT was founded in 1940 as a community space for thespians to work in productions that illustrated the diversity of black life. This exhibition is taken entirely from the Schomburg Collections and highlights the ANT’s stage productions from 1940 through 1949 with photographs, posters, playbills, and news clippings. Images include scenes from successful plays such as Anna Lucasta, studio workshops, and radio broadcasts featuring prominent talent like Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier and Lofton Mitchell, whose careers began at the ANT.
The second show is Unveiling Visions: The Alchemy of the Black Imagination Curated by artist John Jennings and Reynaldo Anderson,this exhibition includes artifacts from the Schomburg collections that are connected to Afrofuturism, black speculative imagination and Diasporan cultural production. Offering a fresh perspective on the power of speculative imagination and the struggle for various freedoms of expression in popular culture, Unveiling Visions showcases illustrations and other graphics that highlight those popularly found in science fiction, magical realism and fantasy.
Both shows run until December 31st so if you’re in the city please visit. The exhibition galleries are open Monday – Saturday, 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. For further info please visit http://www.nypl.org/events/exhibitions