Black and brown artists have always given us that power to resist, but we need to work together to maintain their legacy writes Nusrat Faizullah
As I walked around the shop I came face-to-face with superstar academic Stuart Hall, peering at me from a shelf on the cover of his book The Fateful Triangle. The triangle Stuart Hall talked about was between race, ethnicity and nation and in this book he carefully untangles the power dynamics of these categories.
That day I had wandered into a bookshop seeking refuge from the rain whilst speaking to a friend on the phone about a difficult project I was working on. Alongside comfort from my friend, I was looking to understand and find the words for what I was experiencing, which was the violence that comes from navigating spaces where privilege is so entrenched and obvious to you and but where no one else seems to see it. I explained that you begin to feel like it is you going mad; the outsider always.
In that moment the triangle that also came to be was between my friend, Hall and I, and suddenly I wasn’t alone. I was an outsider no longer.
The arts and culture have always been where I’ve gone to understand my own feelings and context, as well as places to find strength and feel connected to others. Hall understood the importance of culture in interrogating racism, as well as creating spaces to process, explore and celebrate. The Jamaican-born sociologist described identities as being formed at the unstable point where personal lives meet the narrative of history. But who owns that narrative of history? And when we meet that unstable point, where can we seek alternative narratives? Whilst struggling with this myself I came across artists like Asian Dub Foundation. One of their earliest songs, Debris, helped me with my own personal struggles with my ‘third world’ heritage against an absence of any mention of colonialism.
“I sift through the debris you left in your wake
When you pushed us into third place
When the truth is uncovered
And the story’s been told
You won’t be able to look me in the face”
Black and brown artists have always given us that power to resist, but what are we doing to ensure the legacy of this work endures across generations? And how do we also place our current work and challenges within this historical context? On 13th October the Stuart Hall Foundation, in collaboration with black and brown artists and activists, will be launching the Black Cultural Activism Map.
This map will be a dynamic and interactive online resource recording past and present culturally diverse arts initiatives and cultural activism in Britain. The final platform will be unveiled in spring 2019. The launch will bring together three of the commissioned arts collectives; Skin Deep, Voices that Shake! and RECLAIM, for a dynamic afternoon of performances, film screenings, artistic presentations, panel discussions, singing for justice and more. Skin Deep magazine will launch their newest print edition based around the theme ‘Movements’, which has collated submissions that celebrate historical and present-day movements within cultural resistance.
Farzana Khan, the Programmes manager and curator of the Black Cultural Activism Map in her piece, Revolutionary Mothering said:
“Whiteness wants us to speak English so we don’t have a language amongst ourselves that remains inaudible to them. So we must find one. Love in action must give us a language.
A language that might become medicine for our movements, as a way of not only bringing people together but also moving together. Ways to say what happened to us, we might find the words that are not only are heard but give flesh and body, so they are felt. A texture to things not always understood, but still a language that reaches across communities, cultures, generations, trauma, separation —a connection.”
The Black Cultural Activism Map is a portal for that language or love in action. Our community is the celebration of that language, but also a chance to shape it by reflecting on our visions, stories, lessons and legacies of black and brown cultural resistance, and the connections between them. We can reveal the power that can be released simply by joining the dots, in the way that Stuart Hall or artists like Asian Dub Foundation were able to do for me: connecting those personal moments of crisis and pain with the wider web of injustices and prejudice, but also connecting me to the incredible wealth, diversity and strength of black and brown cultural resistance we have here in the UK.
Nusrat Faizullah works as an independent consultant supporting public, private and social sector organisations in areas such as strategy and programme design. She focuses on the role of identity and culturally responsive design to tackle social issues and systemic injustice.
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