Arts and Diversity: Talent Is Everywhere but is Opportunity ?

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.

http://www.theguardian.com/culture/video/2016/jan/18/idris-elba-talent-is-everywhere-opportunity-isnt-video?CMP=share_btn_link

Schomburg’s two great exhibitions on African American Theatre and AfroFuturism

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

Have you popped into a Pop Up Shop?

With Julian Bell CEO of Ealing
With Julian Bell CEO of Ealing

I hope those celebrating Christmas and Kwanzaa have had a wonderful time over the last week. Equally, I wish all a very happy and prosperous 2014.

I expect the coming year to be a busy one and look forward to a number of artistic ventures . I’m very excited and promise to keep you posted once dates and venues are confirmed!!

Aside from catching up with family and a few friends this month, I’ve been fortunate to participate in a new venture supporting entrepreneurs, community groups and artists in the west London borough of Ealing.

West Ealing’s town centre’s Pop up shop provides individuals and companies with a chance to showcase their products and services whilst enhancing the vibrancy and vitality of the high street. This is an exciting opportunity for business owners and entrepreneurs to test and sell their products and services, without the risks and costs of taking on a long-term lease.

I am familiar with such initiatives in the US and also east London but this is a relatively new exercise for the borough. I am glad to see such initiatives taking place particularly since this and many high streets are becoming far too populated with discount bargain shops as a replacement for empty shop units. I guess this is a wider issue, which is linked to the ongoing debate regarding super-sized shopping malls killing off local businesses and community high streets.

I will be at the shop at 99 Uxbridge Road, painting for the next couple of weeks whilst selling prints, postcards and homemade silver jewellery. I am one of four people/companies occupying the space at least for the start of January. If you happen to be in the area please pop in, say hi and show your support.

For further information please visit

http://www.ealing.gov.uk/popupshop

A Season in the Congo: Powerful Theatre

Patrice Lumumba
Patrice Lumumba

I’ve had a relaxing and entertaining weekend.  I did some drawings, attended the Canary Wharf Jazz festival and was fortunate to see Chiwetel Ejiofor as Congo’s Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba in “A Season in the Congo” by Aimé Césaire. BAFTA Award winning director Joe Wright directs the play.

I’ve always known Olivier Award winner Chiwetel Ejiofor to be a great actor.  Along with a fine cast, his performance contributed to an engrossing play that successfully documents Congo’s path to democracy.

Patrice Lumumba served as the first democratically elected prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo for less than three months in 1960, when it gained independence from Belgium. He was murdered by rebel troops (with growing evidence of Western support) soon after he won it.

The production places events of the early 1960s in a wider, historical and political context, capturing the paranoid atmosphere of cold-war politics between the Soviets and the US, the ineffectiveness and neutrality of the United Nations and the forgotten brutality of the Belgian colonialists.

The power and importance of theatre is definitely illustrated as it allows us to remember historical events we in the western hemisphere tend to forget.  It encourages us to understand the role of colonists in undermining the path to democracy and self -determination for African states.

My only upset is that the play doesn’t go far enough in referencing the extent of the Congolese holocaust, initiated by Leopold II of Belgium. Although the exact figure isn’t agreed, the consensus is that Belgian Colonists killed about 12 million Congolese in the 1900s. The Belgians left the nation in such a mess that after the country’s independence millions more died in a series of wars. The assassination of Patrice Lumumba left successive ineffective governments overseeing wars that have in total killed over 5.4 million people, mostly through disease and starvation. Congo has seen the biggest conflicts since World War II.

It’s fair to say Patrice Lumumba’s memory still haunts the country after 50 years. A Season in the Congo is a suitable tribute to a leader who held the hopes of what seems to be lost nation. The play runs until Aug 24th  at London’s Young Vic. For further details please visit http://www.youngvic.org/.

Well, looking forward to a busy and creative week ahead. Wishing you all a safe, happy and prosperous week.

A New Year of Thought Provoking Exhibitions

Wishing you all a Happy New Year!  So 2013 has started off with a flurry of artistic activity on both sides of the Atlantic. This month sees a number of artist friends participate in the LA Art Fair. I have been invited to show but on this occasion will pass. For the start of this year at least, I will be focusing on producing new and varied work but wishing my contemporaries the very best at the event.

I’ve gained motivation this week by attending the opening of the ‘Emerging Artist Award’ exhibition at the Beers Lambert Contemporary in London, the first of several shows in the diary.

Beers Lambert Contemporary believes in nurturing emerging artists and celebrating excellence in contemporary art. Devised to create a platform for the recognition of underexposed artists, the award for emerging art was an international call for submissions. The shortlist of artists is a selection from over 1500 worldwide submissions, judged on criteria such as progression, innovation and excellence in four artistic fields.  The show’s painting and two dimensional work features Stockholm based Jwan Yosef with Spanish artists Alejandro Valles and Gema Perales. Norway’s Oystein Dahlstrom and Brazilian Romen Gouveia provide thought provoking photography whilst the installations are provided by the UK’s Jack West and Norway’s Maren Juell Kristensen. For me, the focal point of this show is American Sculptor Scott Carter’s sculpture made of plasterboard, taken from gallery walls. The show has a limited run from January 9th to 19th before the gallery attends the London Art Fair at the Business Design Centre in Islington, from January 16th to 20th

Please visit the Beers Lambert website  http://www.beerslambert.com/ for further details

The second exhibition opening this week is ‘Out of the Blue: The Art of The Stroke.’  This exhibition has been put together in collaboration with The Stroke Association and the London Stroke Action Council. Out of the Blue / Art of the Stroke highlights the contribution survivors of stroke make to society and marks the 20th anniversary of the Stroke Association itself.

The concept is the brainchild of Lil Sullivan, a professional artist and a stroke survivor. She states it refers to the way people emerge out of the blue horizon of doubt. A stroke nearly killed her and heightened her  sense of vulnerability and the vulnerability of life. The Art of the Stroke has resonance in art as well. A stroke of the brush or hand is the first and last action of the artist in response to a stroke of genius.

The show runs from  Friday January 11 to Saturday January 26th at  the Morley Gallery & The Landing Gallery in the Morley College  61 Westminster Bridge Rd, London SE1 7HT
tel: 020 7450 1826 (nearest station: Lambeth North & Waterloo) for further details please visit

http://theartofthestroke.weebly.com/index.html

Supporting Peace Through Art

Make Peace Mosaic
Make Peace Mosaic

On this memorial date it seems timely to add this entry. I’m glad to be part of this year’s ‘Make Peace’ collaborative art exhibition organised by The Peace Project.  I am inspired and privileged to be exhibiting alongside some very talented individuals. The show provides a platform for artists to share their vision of what ‘makes peace.’ The traveling show, appropriately titled ‘Peace Travels’ will be unveiled on September 22nd at the Deep Ellum ArtWalk, Dallas, Texas.  The exhibition will then subsequently make several stops in Southern California and travel to other locations in the United States including San Francisco and New York. The show will comprise of three elements featuring work by artist Ransome Stanley, 156 pieces chosen by jurors and a mosaic of work by The Whole 9 artists.

The Peace Project is an international social movement powered by the belief that, through creativity and community, we can change the world. Lisa Schultz, founder of the online creative community The Whole9.com, launched the project in July 2010.

The Peace Project and The Whole 9 were conceived upon the philosophy of inclusion, encouraging people from all cultures, religions and creative walks of life, to participate, connect, share resources and help find solutions for a better world. Since 2010, a number of initiatives have taken shape to highlight and improve situations in some of the world’s most war torn regions. This includes Operation Rise, launched on World Peace Day, September 21, 2011, with an objective to get over 10,000 of Sierra Leone’s amputees, war victims and children back on their feet through the provision of crutches and other mobility devices.

For further information on The Whole9 and The Peace Project please visit http://www.thewhole9.com