The importance of the I AM exhibition
For over a year now, our fellow W.O.K.E champions, Raveena and Ade, have been working hard in increasing BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) participation at Keele university via the Cultural Affairs Project.
The I AM exhibition showcased Black and brown womxn’s art, surrounding their experiences as humans and/or raising awareness of certain experiences.
It was an honour to have met four out of the five artists attend the launch of the exhibition, all of them are so lovely and down-to-Earth. Clearly driven with passion regarding their art – but most of all, the message which they represented.
These were the artists whose art were showcased:
Gabriella K A Gay – a poet residing in Stoke-on-Trent. Gabriella describes herself as a mother, teacher, vintage sale dealer, and page-stage poet. Gabriella’s poems usually surround the topic of motherhood, and life as a woman – most importantly, as a Black woman.
Lena Galore – an artist who creates hyper-realistic visual pieces, based in London. Lena describes herself as a multi-disciplinary artist, and is now currently a tattoo artist in training. Lena’s pieces are mostly oil paintings of black beauty like Pretty for a Dark-Skinned and graphite drawings such as her piece(s) Caught in the Rain.
Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan – a poet based in London. Suhaiymah is passionate in educating and speaking out against Islamophobia, state violence, decoloniality, gender, and race. Suhaiymah’s poems often depict the many experiences of discrimination – mostly as a Muslim woman who proudly wears a hijab. Suhaiymah also has attended and given talks, such as TedxYouth@Brum2017.
Shannon Bono – an artist who often creates self-portraits, based in London. Shannon is a CSM MA Art & Science graduate, and describes herself as a painter, creative, and cultural writer. Shannon’s art pieces often depict social issues which are mostly unique to African culture, such as: the Bundu masks from Sierra Leone, these masks are crafted by men but worn by women highly ranked in the society during “initiation” masquerades; and Sowei Ndahiti which depicts the culture of Mende people’s ways of “initiating” a girl into her womanhood, highlighting female genital mutilation (also known as FGM).
T.I.A. Visions – a photographer from London. Tia often captures pictures that showcase the best “mood at that moment in time”. Moreover, Tia also captures with the use of photography, the female sexuality – showcasing the many types of female bodies, and how there is beauty in each and single one of them.
It was surprising how the atmosphere within a lobby, a small space out of the whole building, managed to completely change just from having the BAME community attend.
It sounds silly, I know.
However during this time of the night (18:00/6pm), it is usually a quiet time and sometimes there are lectures held for external trustees – this happened to be one of those nights. As one can imagine, those external trustees are all white.
Rich, old white people collectively gave us looks of confusion, as if we were in the wrong place. A slight microaggression, that unless you are part of the marginalised – will always go unnoticed.
An unfortunate reality for us who are BAME.
Even those who are part of the BAME community within the university, were just as bewildered at the sight of so many faces whom bore the same as them.
Many Black and people of colour quietly pulled me aside, asking me why are there so many of US. Unfortunately, some even assumed that we were occupying the space (i.e. in the same way as G.A.R.A. had done at Goldsmith’s).
Such is the reality of being a person who is Black, being a person of colour.
For once, we were all in the same room.
For once, we weren’t the minority.
I guess this concept would be hard to understand for those who aren’t Black or a person of colour. White people have never had to feel the awkwardness of being stared at once you walk into a room – just because people subconsciously react to the colour of one’s skin.
This space at university, one that is widely considered “white” after uni hours, was filled with Black and coloured faces – showed the significance as to why representation is important. Why there is a need to normalise seeing so many Black and Brown faces.
Had it not been for the I AM exhibition, we would only ever see the history and art through the eyes of a white person. Of course, that’s not to say that those perspectives are not valid – however only white people can understand that perspective.
In media, in language, in books even – everything has always been reflected or showed via white lenses. Showing how life’s struggles can be overcome via white lenses.
The same cannot be said to us whom are Black and people of colour.
When life, art, media and books are shown via our perspectives, it is always showing us as the “negative ones”. Romanticising our pain and struggles, and showing white people as “our saviour”. Why was the same not done for us?
Why is it that we are always shown as the “negative” just because we aren’t white?
For once, this exhibition showed things from our perspective.
How we overcome, or raise awareness of Black and people of colour struggles – without the romanticisation.
It is beautiful and refreshing to see things from a perspective whom you can relate to. Isn’t that what art is all about? To be able to translate your own emotions from the piece/exhibit?
For once, we can visually see our struggles; our parents’ struggles – even our ancestor’s struggles.
For once, we can visually see the effects of colonialism has had on our people and culture; and how it has had such a negative impact – lasting for centuries post-colonisation.
For once, white people can see why representation for US is important.
Written by: Fides Dagongdong Fides is an undergraduate Law and Politics student at Keele University, whose work focuses on child sex tourism in the Philippines. Fides also raises awareness regarding colourism, fetishism, and sexism. Twitter: @fidesadee_ Wordpress blog: @fidesadee Instagram: @fidesadee_ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/fidesadee/