Across the Pond and into Wonderland: Identity, Discovery, & Art


By Beatrice Carey

Upon chasing the white rabbit into art academia I find myself feeling as though I am in another world.  With my identity and presence always in question, I often feel just as lost and out of place as Alice. For Alice, she perceives another world through the looking glass but for me, and most BME students, it is through the lens of double consciousness.

img_0779This feeling of double consciousness, a concept brought to life by W.E.B. DuBois in The Souls of Black Folks, is the “constant awareness of one’s self through the eyes of others.” This is a term used quite often to describe the feeling African Americans feel in American society.  “It is a peculiar sensation, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity,” explains W.E.B DuBois in further literary detail. In the context of art academia, it is a painful awareness that students of color do not have the luxury of dismantling.  Due largely to the effects of colonization, the world’s understanding of art is through a Eurocentric lens. This belief that anything deemed aesthetically pleasing must pass through the standards set by European influences is one of the key factors of dissention for students of color. “To say classical art, classical music, or classical dance, cannot mean only European art, music, and dance and be meaningful in the world context. Any cultural form worthy of emulation is classical for a particular history,” Dr. Molefi Kete Asante explains in Afrocentricity: Toward a New Understanding of African Thought in the World.  Coupled with a staggering lack of BME representation of lecturers in universities and proper education including successful minority artists, this creates unequal learning environments.  Like most, artists pull their inspiration from their background and everyday life experiences. For students coming from diverse racially charged countries like the US, such as myself, there is a potent call to action to address and acknowledge these issues in one’s work. Having to constantly filter or create work that both satisfy the artist of color’s creative vision and the unnoticed bias of the lecturer is a constant battle for minority contemporary artists.  Though efforts have been taken to actively include artists from all backgrounds into conversation, the issue of unconscious bias has yet to be addressed effectively in the institution of art, primarily equal inclusion in art history and museums.

The next issue of identity is created due to the lack of understanding of the basic economical and cultural background differences that occur between different subdivisions of BME students. Primarily in the UK, Black Minority Ethnic students have a greater understanding of their cultural background due largely to immigration and a shorter time frame of slavery. As an African American student I constantly find myself reliving the famous caterpillar scene in the form of the questions, “Who are you?” and “No, where are you really from?”  Both faculty and students of all backgrounds including BME, due to ignorance of other cultures, ask these questions. There is a desperate need for diversity in art education and the arts for not only BME students, but all students and academics.  When there is better representation and more emphasis placed on fixing this issue higher education will transition away from Wonderland and into an accurate representation of the world and its diverse population.

 

References

DuBois, W.E.B.  1868-1963

The Souls of Black Folks

Kete Asante, Molefi

Afrocentricity: Toward a New Understanding of African Thought in the World  

5/2009