The Importance of diversity in race and gender being showcased in degree shows.
Degree shows are a good opportunity for universities to showcase the work that they support students to create. It is also an opportunity for new students to discover what their creative capabilities are. This is where the conversation around diversity comes in. As a student in CSM who is a woman of colour, it was extremely inspiring to see work created by women and people of colour that reflected on issues of race, culture, and gender.
Here are the works I found most inspiring
Seema Mattu, a fine art student works in the medium of video making. Her work is influenced by her Indian culture and queer identity. In her work at the degree show, she created an Indian living room setting, where she showcases a wedding video, in which she marries herself. She also plays every single character in the wedding video, from the old auntie to the gangster wanna-be teenage cousin and even the DJ.
There is a generalisation that all brown girls get forced into arranged marriages, and as a brown girl, I have had experiences in which I have been asked questions about arranged marriages, which may have been what sparked this inspiration for Seema. Looking at queer politics it is interesting to think about what arranged marriage would look like for queer folk, in the video, Seema is marrying herself, this could be interpreted as; marrying the same sex, and having the freedom to choose (the freedom to even marry yourself if you want to.)
Central Saint Martin’s is known for its fashion courses and students who wear outrageous outfits daily on their way to class. Even Though freedom of expression in clothing is very much encouraged, freedom of expressing faith is not. In my two years of study, I have barely seen any women wearing hijab. I have heard from some Muslim classmates that they would love to wear their hijab but they are worried about the outcomes. Which is why this next piece of work was very eye catching for me.
Keanoush Da Rosa’s series of photography showcases women in different types of hijab. I could identify with one of the women in the photographs because it reminded me of my life back home, and that’s not a feeling you’d usually get as a middle-eastern person in a place like CSM. The photographs were displayed against the glass so they could be seen from outside. At first glance the women had very serious expressions, perhaps this is a comment on how Muslim women are seen through the western eye, but when you entered the room you could see another set of photographs on the back, in which all the women were smiling, below,on the floor underneath each photograph was small piles of paprika. Was this referring to women from ethnic backgrounds adding spice to the lives of white folk? Or was it simply a reference to food and culture? It was great to see representations of women in hijab as a part of the exhibition.
Zarina Muhammad works with the medium of video art and photoshop junk (as she would describe it) her work for the degree show looks at exercising speech, she is very much inspired by how artists talk about their own work. About her work at the degree show, she says “I was trying on objectivity, I was a commentator, talking about myself with a step back, added distance”
Throughout her video art, she shows a great sense of theory-making and validating her viewpoint. She is not scared of being brutally honest which makes her work exciting to watch. Racial identity is not something that is spoken about very often in an art university setting, as people tend to not bring up conversations around race in a lecture room environment. Without this dialogue, it is more difficult to make work about race and identity with confidence. Which is why seeing works of students like Zarina gives hope to other students of colour.
Eve Cookney When talking about diversity and groups, sex work is an important conversation to bring up. We live in a society of taboos, and both female and queer sexual empowerment still continue to be a big taboo, which is why I found Eva’s work very refreshing and powerful to see at the degree show.
Cookney’s work looks at fetish sex work. The room was set up as a not so innocent playroom using balloon installations in all shapes and sizes. There was a sound piece documenting the interactions between a sex worker and the clients, all voices had been changed to robot like voices, which for me focused on the mechanical aspects of sex, but also the complexity fetishes and sex work. In a way, there was an illusion created, no knowing how much of the content was true, which made it even more exciting to listen to. There were several characters introduced in the sound piece, characters that were a result of the client’s’ imagination. There were a series of photographs installed on the wall showcasing a bedroom setting with a figure dressed as the characters we were introduced to in the sound piece.
Sex work is a reality we try to avoid, and it can also be a big part of students’ life especially (research show) art students, as some students may rely on sex work for financial means just like any other job. Sex workers’ rights are constantly under threat. Sex work tends to go unrecognised, ignored and misrepresented as a job in the art world and society as a whole. It is empowering to see a fine art student using this subject to create work, and showing solidarity to other students who may be experiencing it.
Eve describes their vision and inspiration on how “sexualized bodies are made to perform and alter themselves for the predominantly male gaze.”
Definition of sex work: The term is used in reference to all those working in all areas of the sex industry.
Spacey’s work was one that caught a lot of attention in the room, a beach setting with an image of a young black man putting his arm around a white elderly woman, the caption said: you wouldn’t let your chocolate melt, so why let your happiness.
Looking at the work ideas around fetishisation of black bodies came to mind. How black and brown bodies are desirable to the white gaze, and the idea of tourism as a privilege and also fetishisation of the “exotic other”.
Why is it that we want to travel? Why do we look for a small part of a culture that doesn’t belong to us, and bring it back home? Sometimes this culture may be an accessory or a food recipe, but sometimes it can be defined in a person from that certain culture. Black and brown bodies are treated as “a bit of spice” that some people may desire to add to their life. This image very much resonated with me in this sense.