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  • Writer's pictureJamal Gerald

Shit White People Say and Do In The Arts

Throughout my artistic career so far, there have been things white people have said and done that have drove me insane. But, somethings will also have to do with the system as well. There’s so many things, I’m just going to try and keep it brief.

I have always felt that I needed to overly explain why I’m making a piece of work. I’m not talking about funding and performance applications, that’s different. I’m talking about people within the arts. Mind you, I am only speaking for myself and no one else. It’s a shame I even have to say that. Whenever I have to explain why I’m making something, it is usually triggered by a white person. It is always a white person questioning it, and making it out to seem like it shouldn’t happen. The amount of times this has happened is unbearable. I’m done. From now on, I’m no longer explaining to white people why I am making a piece of work. Especially, if the work is about race.

The amount of times I see some mediocre or self indulgent work by white artists, and it’s okay. They get a pass. Yes, I know art is subjective. And how often white artists get away with making work just because they’re interested in that concept. But, I’m not allowed to say that I’m just interested. I’m not allowed to ever be mediocre. I’m not allowed to fail. I always have to try my best to make sure my work is of the highest quality and still not get paid much attention. Yet, a mediocre piece by a white artist will get so much praise. I also feel like I have to write a fucking thesis in order to explain why I’m making something. And even if the thesis is really articulate, it’s still not good enough.

I want to make an exhibition about black people and their happiness in response to becoming socially conscious. And that’s it, that’s what I’m interested in. I want to see black people exploring their happiness because I believe in seeing and showcasing my people in a positive light. But yet, that’s been questioned. Then I get labelled defensive when I want to understand why some questions are being asked. Would it make some people more comfortable if I just focused on the oppression of black people? Does seeing black people happy make you feel uncomfortable? Why question the fact there’s only going to be black people in the exhibition? Do you feel uncomfortable about the fact that you won’t see yourself? Well, that’s how I feel majority of the time when I see work by white artists. I rarely ever see myself. It’s like I always have to consider the white gaze, when there’s plenty of work where white artists are not considering the gaze of people of colour.

There’s so much work out there that’s a huge display of white privilege. There’s things that white artists do, that artists of colour would never get away with. And if artists of colour do it, it’ll be in the back of someone’s garden and not in an institution. I’m so sick of it! I have also been told in the past that I take my work really seriously. What the fuck does that even mean? Yes, this was said by a white person. Yes, I take my work really seriously. This person also said that if they make something and it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. I don’t ever get the chance to think like that.

The classic,

“There’s so many BAME opportunities you can apply for!”

Yes, there is, but just because those opportunities are there doesn’t mean it’s a guarantee that I will get them. Also, it doesn’t mean my experience of being an artist is much easier. Because there’s so many artists of colour applying for those opportunities. If I was successful, it was because I was lucky that time. Also, let’s remember why affirmative action is there in the first place. For REPRESENTATION! If those opportunities for artists of colour and disabled artists weren’t there, do you think there would be a good amount of representation? The answer is no. Representation is something that is truly important to me and one of the reasons why I make my work.

When I did my performance degree, I wasn’t sure if I could be a performance artist because the majority of artists we studied were white. My lecturers were all white, myself and my bestie Alicia were the only black people in the class. There were artists that inspired me like Tim Miller, Chris Goode and Scottee. But, it was only until I saw the likes of Selina Thompson, Jamal Harewood and Ria Hartley that I felt that I could really do this.

To conclude, I hope that one day I can get to a point where I can make something because I want to. Without having to give the most articulate explanation as to why I’m making it. To not have to worry about the white gaze. To not have doubts about making something that has the potential to be great.

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