Art by women of colour artists and cultural ‘negotiation’

Cultural political complicity and silence that was instructed in art education after the black arts movement in the 80’s and 90’s, created a generation of A Political POC artists, products of art schools in the late 90’s and 2000’s. In the 80’s Women of Colour artists acutely battled to discuss their identities in a true and honest form, using politics as a tool to frame discussions about identity, gender, and race. Fast forward to 2000’s, women of colour artists emerging in art school, were being told that identity politics should be presented through a refined context – to provide the least amount of discomfort to the white supremacist gaze. 

As women of colour, our experiences of racism and sexism live with us from inside our homes, to work, holidays, exercising, shopping – everywhere. We cannot escape, separate, divide, isolate, segregate our human experiences of convergence of our struggle that we carry with us twenty-four hours a day. In a capitalist patriarchal world, women of colour are not meant to be seen, let alone heard. Our presence is the problem, our presence in white supremacist institutions is a conflict and a war zone.

Image – Mary Evans (artist)

As a lighter skinned South Asian Muslim woman who doesn’t wear hijab, with superficial tokenised institutional art school privileges, I have to check myself continuously. I also come from a generation of artists, who were trained and functioned to be A Political. However, as a Muslim woman, I do not have the option to ignore and turn away from the rampant disease of Islamophobia. My superficial privileges have allowed me at times to ‘switch off’ and be nebulous about my struggle, which only proved to be further counterproductive. As a younger artist in my 20’s, I negotiated between politics, and the industry often. Now in my mid 30’s and after studying brave and bald Women of Colour artists from the 80’s, I do not feel the need to negotiate and am not willing to compromise to make abstract art in the name of ‘contemporary modernism’ victimising my body and other black and brown bodies to fit in and entertain the oppressive white supremacist culture. To reach certain decisions, women of colour artists with privileged positions and access, need to confront and negotiate with themselves and retain self-criticality to not fall into traps of a reformist culture that customarily uses social injustices to reform racist white supremacist culture.