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Boxed In? – “Lets forget about racism”

by Ash Sharma
18 Jun 2007 • Comments (2) • Print
Posted: General Issue [0] | Commons

Boxed In is a recent essay by Sonya Dyer under the Manifesto Club banner. It is a rather predictable critique of public funding of black arts and artists. The core of the well-versed argument is that racially targeted state funding only leads to the ghettoisation of black artists. As the essay illustrates, it is not very difficult to give numerous examples of failed ‘diversity’ schemes and projects. Without going through the rather partial examples in the essay it is worth highlighting the real limitations of the argument:

1. The essay assumes a very conservative and bourgeois notion of art. ‘Essentially good art is removed and autonomous from society, culture and crucially politics. The artist should be just free to create’.

2. ‘Racism is unfortunate but is not really the cause for black artists not being ’successful”. They are just not ‘good enough’ or have met the ‘right people’. This just fails to understand the complex place of art and culture in the organisation of power, information and control in contemporary western societies.

3. ‘Race is not important but class is’. But why privilege one category over the other? Are not race and class always in articulation? Why no discussion of gender, religion, regionality, sexuality? Because the presumption is that these differences do not matter. In fact they are a problem to the ‘universalist project of common humanity and great art’. We are all the same under the skin…

4. The highlighting of class does not lead to a critique of neoliberal capitalism. The essay fails to understand how diversity rhetoric in the public and private sectors is operating within the logic of contemporary global capitalism. Without an analysis of capitalism and racism, the critique of state funding just becomes another right-wing, neo-conservative attack on welfare democracy, and a defence of the market.

5. Black and anti-racist cultural politics require collective political organisation, critical theories and innovative practices and institutions that attempt to transform all sectors of art, culture and society. This has always been the contested universalism of decolonialisation and anti-racism. These political struggles transverse across many sectors of society – nationally and globally. The challenge is to change all, not to see the relatively meagre funds that the state gives to a few black artists and organisations as the problem.

Ash Sharma is the co-editor of darkmatter. He teaches at the University of East London, UK and is a member of the Black Study Group (London). He blogs at tabula rasa and co-edits the writing zine Southern Discomfort . Re-imagining (sub)urban space at twitter: @ashdisorient He is completing a book on race and visual culture.
All posts by: Ash Sharma | Email | Website

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2 Responses »

  1. five powerful points with which I completely agree. Any chance of soliciting a response from Sonya Dyer?

  2. I agree it would be interesting to see what response the writer would have to these specific points. There is a response by the author to the Arts council –
    There is also an interview piece with Sonya Dyer on Spiked-online
    The title ‘Can’t non-white people ever just make art?’ encapsulates well the problem with this position.

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