Image – Cold Dark Matter, 2015 (Cornelia Parker)
Soundtrack – Is it because I’m Black, Syl Johnson
Let me point out the obvious. I’m black…, I am African, West African to be more specific. In fact let me be precise I’m Ghanaian, deriving from the Ga and Asante Kingdoms with a strand of German heritage but educated in London, England.
You may disagree, but when I look in the mirror I see a man of African descent. What I produce benefits the UK via my taxes while what I discuss engages those who actively gain excitement in understanding the world they live in and how it works.
In an impromptu conversation with my former tutor, we discussed the state of frustration many Non-European artists currently exist in. Producing work they don’t wish to create or being included in discussions they do not wish to be represented in. You could say that this predicament is the birthplace of the ‘One in, one out’ theory.
Anonymous : If you don’t define who and what you are, somebody else will.
CL-Q : I’m not even sure that will help.
Anonymous (2) : When selling your work, people will question what you look like and what you’re doing, they want to see the connection. Effectively where is the authenticity in your endeavours?
Unbelievable, the question of authenticity coming from being dependent on skin colour rather than experience. Does that not articulate the magnitude of ignorance in a so-called progressive nation, even worse in a creative institution which encompasses the rejects of conformists society but struggles with stereotypical perception. Ironic. Maybe I shouldn’t expect any better from a place where besides the security guards, the darkest thing in the room is the shadow of white plinths.
For many, what I speak of may seem like an overreaction, but when living In a constant state of escaping from your reflection, avoiding any connotation that may feed ignorant stereotypes and spotlight you as an anomaly in the masses…living in a state of frustration is most definitely an understatement. In fact, it resurrects memories of prior to the period on which African/African-Caribbean culture was considered ‘cool’ and acceptable. So every effort was made to disenfranchise yourself from any cultural representation of your origin, and if you slipped up it was an embarrassment. this is not a narrative of pity but a simple truth for those old enough to remember the transition from alienation to appropriation.
In regards to being a practitioner, this translates into somewhat of a curse of looking black and talking about anything related to the subcontinent and its connotations.metaphorically depicted by this lyric describing battle between the suit of acceptance and restriction of identity.
I hope my black skin don’t dirt this white tuxedo before the Basquiat show…
The lesson became all too clear when evaluating where to position oneself in the industry. I believe marketing to be the unfortunate culprit for this circumstance. In a recent video interview, I was asked by Vodafone to talk to an emerging “African” artist about how to establish a career in the western world. Now, I hardly see myself as an expert, but my first words to him were, don’t call yourself an “African” artist, or you will regret it. So until 54 nations, (not including the ones that are not formally recognised) unite and fulfil Garvey and Nkrumah’s dream of a Union of African States, be specific about where you come from and ensure your authenticity is defined by your personal experience not by what is comfortable by the masses as a result of habit.
The battle for wanting to be known in a field of your choice, but not in one that makes imperial sense is a current reality for me, but on a wider basis for any emerging creative. It’s become a prerequisite to being aware of the connotations of every contextual, aesthetic and linguistic decision before you make it,even more so than usual. It then becomes a matter of recital and relentless proclamation of your desired position in your field of choice, to avoid pigeonholing.
For example, on 14 October 2016, I launched ‘Archive of Unmaterialised History’ a collection of narrative objects asking more critical questions than giving answers about suspicious narratives in popular culture. Rather than the deification of the word ‘History’ being a definition of the act of documentation of human existence instead of focussing on the past, in tandem with my personal appearance eventually turned a political and scientific agenda into a “black” resistance initiative, fighting the powers of colonial imperialism at every front. Worst of all, who knew the presence of a non-European face could be so racially charged. Eventually, the abbreviated AUH (Archive of Unmaterialised History) became ‘Unmaterialised’ the connotations were just too strong. If I can’t change a millennia of unconfessed guilt and the pent up fire for retribution, I will have to find a way to exist where my relevance isn’t limited by the shortsightedness of those who can’t see beyond their current understanding.
This was best articulated, in Will smith’s interview on ‘Inside The Actors Studio’, where he attributed his success to the fact that everyone can laugh at his jokes, but fundamentally everyone is laughing for different reasons…still an unfortunate burden for mass appeal.
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