Awards & Reviews...
If you know me, you’re aware of how much I love Kendrick Lamar. He’s my KING! Recently, he won the Pulitzer Prize award for his album ‘DAMN.’. And of course, I was so happy for him, because I do believe he should be recognised for the great work he makes. This led me to thinking about myself as an artist and my thoughts on awards and reviews in my field.
I’ve noticed that these things do help the careers of artists. But, I do believe there’s something problematic about this, especially when considering what the work is about. Let’s say my piece of work is about race (which it usually is), then a panel of white judges give me an award. It’s like I have to wait for white people to tell me and the masses my work about race has merit. No, I don’t literally have to wait. However, if I want my career to take off, then yes, I sort of do. It’s kind of the same with theatre critics, they usually won’t give a piece about race, a high star rating because they can’t fully relate to the issues being addressed. And if they do give a high star rating, it’s only on some rare occasions, or because they’re potentially suffering from white guilt.
The people who usually give out the awards or are reviewing work, majority of them time are white. It’s like having to wait for master to approve my performance. It seems like the most important gaze is the white gaze. Don’t get me wrong, yes I want people to like my work. And if I got nominated for an award and won, yes, I would be happy. I’ve just learnt that it’s not everything. I’m personally done with giving someone else’s opinion on my work so much power. I know some artists who could never handle a person not wanting to see their work again. It would be the end of the world for some of them. I would find it much more interesting if someone didn’t like my work. Well, that’s just me because I’m not interested in pleasing everyone. It’s all ego for a lot of artists.
But, I do understand how big of a deal it is for someone like Lyn Gardner or Matt Trueman to say a show is incredible, as they have the power to attract more of an audience. That’s if your work requires an audience, of course. Through my research, the careers of the artists I admire seemed to only have taken off after winning awards and receiving high star rated shows. Their work was already great in the first place, but, it seems like those awards and stars elevated their work. Even though, star ratings are subjective.
I remember that there was a prize during my final year of university, all of the degree shows were up for the chance to perform at Transform Festival. We didn’t find out until the beginning of the week of us all performing our degree shows. I’m most competitive when I know there’s a prize at state, so I wanted that award so badly. I didn’t get this award, but a lot of people thought that I would. It was kind of like Macklemore winning over Kendrick Lamar for Best Rap Album at the Grammys in 2014.
I was devastated. I went on to become extremely insecure about my practice and didn’t think I could ever have a performance career. I was convinced that if I didn’t make work like my peers or artists that I studied, then there was no chance for me. That sounds so dramatic, but that’s the honest truth. I started to think about why I didn’t get the award. Were my lecturers racist? No, I don’t think so. But, race definitely had a part to play in the decision making, whether my former lecturers realised it or not. I personally believe that it was because my show ‘FADoubleGOT’ was about my experience of being black and gay. All of my lecturers were white and straight, therefore they couldn’t relate to my show. And even if they did connect, it wasn’t because of their race or sexual orientation.
I wanted their approval, but I wanted approval from the wrong demographic. Overtime, I realised that I should be in a position where I know my work is great; not having to wait for anyone to give me any validation. My ego was so bruised but it needed bruising. This is something I am going to keep in mind for the rest of my career. I want to make work and if people like it, lovely! If they don’t like it, lovely! I’m quite glad that I didn’t win the award, because if I did, I wouldn’t know what I know now.