Ethnic Art Exhibitions - Just as Valid Today?

 This year marks 70 years since India gained independence from the British Empire. A time for celebration or a stark reminder of the partition atrocity? The BBC televised various documentaries and panel discussions on the event with accounts from people who suffered through one of the biggest forced mass migrations in history.   This was of particular interest to me with my mother being half Indian. Knowledge has to be sought from other sources as she was adopted by western parents so there was no cultural education whilst she was growing up in the home nor was it directed or expected during the sixties. And coupling that with the British education system, which as we all know is whitewashed, makes understanding history particularly difficult. Reflecting on what I was taught and to what extent indicates this - Independence and Ghandi but not much more. So I was thankful for the documentaries and accounts delivered by people who experienced it, which has led to more research and understanding overall on my part. Knowledge is power after all. 

This year marks 70 years since India gained independence from the British Empire. A time for celebration or a stark reminder of the partition atrocity? The BBC televised various documentaries and panel discussions on the event with accounts from people who suffered through one of the biggest forced mass migrations in history. 

This was of particular interest to me with my mother being half Indian. Knowledge has to be sought from other sources as she was adopted by western parents so there was no cultural education whilst she was growing up in the home nor was it directed or expected during the sixties. And coupling that with the British education system, which as we all know is whitewashed, makes understanding history particularly difficult. Reflecting on what I was taught and to what extent indicates this - Independence and Ghandi but not much more. So I was thankful for the documentaries and accounts delivered by people who experienced it, which has led to more research and understanding overall on my part. Knowledge is power after all. 

As part of my ongoing inspiration seeking I have been to two art exhibitions this week. The only difference is that they have been defined by the ethnic group of artists within the shows.

One was titled 'The Beauty of being British Asian' which was curated by Burnt Roti, an online magazine aimed at women of South Asian decendency, where all of the artists were of duel identity - South Asian and British. The work exhibited ranged from illustrations to photography and sculptural installation. My favourite pieces were:

 Gurjeet Jheeta

Gurjeet Jheeta

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Soofiya Audry  

 Dejah Naya

Dejah Naya

 Kiran Gidda

Kiran Gidda

The second was a show at the Tate Modern called 'Soul of a Nation' where the exhibition was celebrating black artists who lived and created work in American during the sixties and beyond.  Again the work ranged in artistic output along with archival pieces such as the Black Panther newspaper, posters and video footage based on the civil rights movement.

 Romare Bearden

Romare Bearden

 Barkley Hendricks

Barkley Hendricks

 Frank Bowling

Frank Bowling

 Lorraine O'Grady  

Lorraine O'Grady  

Whilst thinking about the work exhibited and the themes that bound the shows together made me question and think about specific points. Such as the political element of some of the work. And is defining work by ethnic group important? There must be a need to create certain platforms particularly when it comes to ethnicity due to there being limited exposure of artists in the main arena of art. Again another issue of whitewashing. You only have to go various art galleries to see that the main demographic of artists are western and usually men. So creating a group show based on ethnicity seems to not only be an important point drawing on artists from the sixties but even more so now, clearly a platform is needed. It made me really reflect a lot on the world and the society we live in today. Are we really that progressive? 

When I am creating my own work I am still really shocked at the lack of women of colour in the fashion, art and media world but even more so when it comes to Indian women, where are they? It is so questionable especially given the history between Britain and India. Is it shame or just good ole imperialism at its best (worst)?

So visiting this exhibition whose focus was on British Asian artists was particularly poignant. I think this agenda needs to be pushed forward more and more and challenging the establishment by creating more platforms to not only showcase artists but highlight the lack of representation. Art is so important and serves so many purposes; for pleasure, to educate, to inspire and to inform. Which is why it is so important for artists from various ethnic backgrounds have a space in which to be celebrated. 

Just like the artists in American from the Soul of a Nation exhibition who's work was not only about identity, politics or painting in a particular style; it also generates debate about what is art? Black art? Political art? If you are an artist from an ethnic background should your work have an agenda that questions society? Should it matter, as an artist do you not have artistic license to do what inspires you rather than being politicised by others? 

There is always a fine line and some people will view various platforms as being integral and somewhat of a duty to raise awareness, create debate. Not to be afraid to question the establishment, make your voice heard.

My opinion at this stage of my creative and artistic journey is precisely on that point. I want to raise awareness, I want to highlight the lack of fair and diverse representation. I like the idea of combining different interests to serve my own personal journey of expression but hopefully in an entrepreneurial way that becomes commercially viable, just not in a gallery but on the streets, as walking works of art. 

It is needed, it is important and should not even be on the agenda but here we are. So back to my own agenda and pushing forward my concept. Today and for the remainder of the week I will be mocking up an advert page that will hopefully be approved for a magazine that will be published later on in the year. Developments as usual will updated on here, fingers crossed they like it and include it. Then onto more photoshoot planning. Final outfit styling to be decided and location order confirmed. Baby steps but it is all in the right direction. Oh and check out the newly designed website layout. Even though the photos will be replaced I am interested in people's opinion so so let me know what you think.