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Cynth'ya Lewis

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Blogs by Cynth'ya Lewis

Diversity, The Conservative Veil
6/30/2005 1:59:09 PM    [ Flag as Inappropriate ]

'A tiny minority of black artists and intellectuals have broken into the white arts elite, but perhaps only in order to satisfy funding requirements.'

Quote from the March 16, 2004 article "Racism, Then and Now" by Manick Govinda, Artist Advisor and Arts Project Manager, Artsadmin

The above info in the website above is information from an artist who recently moved back to the US from Europe, known internationally, but snubbed here in the US. I'm assisting him with getting an exhibit for 2007 in the Underground Railroad Museum in Cincinnati--they sent me a positive response to consider his proposal.

But because of "Diversity" the results for this artist may, or may not flip the coin in his favor.

The rest of what you read may test your patience. As the one who wrote it, who grew up trying to act "white" to be accepted and ended up being shunned by both races growing up.

(This is of course no thanks to being the only black child in a school of several hundred whites during the traumatic transition of puberty, then transfering to a school with a number of blacks who wondered "why does she act so "white.")

The term "diversity" itself has shut the door -- I know on myself personally -- in story after story with a number of professional African Americans who, like Pleasant, are absolutely brilliant. The current republican administrations prefer invasive, empty assimilated and culturally void conservative mindsets, shunning anyone of any shade, lifestyle, (even hairstyle) profile who questions their authority.

Sadly, the word "diversity" is the new invisible shield of separatism and favoritism in America. It is a word that should be translated as "preferred selection" leaving out anyone who does want to make those who make the rules, uncomfortable with their own conscience.

What's worse is that blacks who live not only in this nation, but in nations where blacks are left to fend for themselves (i.e. South Africa and England) have been successfully taught to believe in stereotypes that it is wrong to be extraordinarily successful in professions and sciences where African Americans are not dominant. As a result, non-white people of a browner persuasion are in a quagmire of not being accepted by "white or black". We are "threatening" to the majority and "too white acting" to the minority. Muncie is a place where, like Savannah, “the dark ones” are expected to be content and not raise a fuss.

As for me, I point to the founding signers of the constitution who somehow forgot to get Crispus Attucks signature, but didn’t mind him taking a hit with a King George bullet that spilled the blood that is part of some downtrodden cobblestone street in Boston. He bled red, and the rest of us suffered under the whites and got a case of the blues.


Govinda's full story is below. Link also provided here.

blessin's, cynth'ya
* * * * *
(For those with super slow computers (or who just can't wait to read it but want to send it to a friend, the story it is conveniently noted below.)

RACISM, THEN AND NOW. By Manick Govinda, Artist Advisor and Arts Project Manager, Artsadmin

March 16, 2004.

When I was assistant editor for a quarterly south Asian arts magazine called Bazaar in 1987, one of our correspondents wrote a report about the racial abuse of a south Asian artist following the opening of her exhibition at a gallery in the north of England.

The person responsible for the abuse was a member of the gallery's management collective. It was reported that his colleagues who were present did nothing to stop him. The artist sent out a statement quoting some of the perpetrator's remarks, such as 'all Indians and Blacks are stupid', 'all Indians want to be subservient to white people, and that's what they are', and that exhibiting in 'white art galleries was like prostitution and that [the artist] may as well open [her] legs and lay on [her back]'. The artist took down her work two days later, only to be told that she should bear the costs for terminating the exhibition.

This was 17 years ago, and we would like to think that things have improved. Another incident, which I heard about through conversations with colleagues, occurred more recently in a major national visual arts institution. The individual who experienced the racism, which was perhaps less overt than the incident I just described, was on an Arts Council-funded fellowship at the institution. Again, I do not know what action, if any, was taken to address the individual fellow's grievance.

These are individual incidents and overt racism should be easy to deal with. Many institutions have an equal opportunities policy, but do they have an anti-racist code of practice?

Arts institutions and funders over the years dropped any anti-racist code of practice, if indeed they ever had one, and replaced it with the more liberal cultural diversity action plans. Cultural diversity is much more acceptable - it embraces the fact that we live in a diverse society and is a cause to be celebrated. However, what cultural diversity has done is to dismiss the term Black Arts - a holistic term that united artists of African, Asian and Caribbean descent through their common experience of colonialism and their struggles against it - and so ethnicising and fragmenting communities by focusing on difference.

To my knowledge, there are no black directors of any mainstream or even independent galleries in the UK, unless they have a specific internationalist focus, such as the Institute for International Visual Arts (inIVA). There are a tiny handful of Black curators, many of whom are independent who sometimes work in partnership with visual arts institutions. There are a significant number of Black artists living and practising in the UK, some of whom have exhibited widely, internationally, in major institutions and have received prizes. A significant minority are represented by commercial galleries. Without a doubt, the situation has improved a great deal from my initial experience of working in the arts in 1986. For example, there are probably more black people on the governing boards of visual arts institutions today.

Within higher education, post-colonial cultural theory must (I hope) have had an impact on the study and analysis of art and its histories. Besides isolated incidents, I don't know whether racism exists in the visual arts today. I have no statistics, nor inquiries or other fact-finding investigations on which to base my judgement. There probably aren't any.

What I do know is that the decision-makers and those in control of owning and distributing art are in the main a white, middle-class-and-above elite, and as with all elites, they have many formal and informal social networks by which power is maintained and institutionalised. It is hard for many black artists and curators to break into this network, and if you're black and from a working-class background - well…you really are left out.

I worry about the embracement of cultural diversity, however, because it lacks an analysis of the social and historical forces that determine and shape racism. I also think that it alienates white people, since the strategies seem to give preferential treatment to 'ethnic minorities'. This is not the way to win the white majority over. Thorough reasoning needs to be given for any positive action programme, which means giving the public an analysis of racism and the roots of racism. Otherwise, many people may think (although they may not say it) that preferential treatment is being given to 'ethnic minorities'.

A tiny minority of black artists and intellectuals may have broken into the white arts elite. But my feeling is that many have been brought on in order to satisfy funding requirements rather than coming from a more organic relationship to the institution. An organic development can only come about by refocusing on and developing anti-racist strategies.

To change the makeup of the white power elite in the visual arts, however, means undertaking thorough research into their formal and informal networks.

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