Create asked a number of artists with personal/ artistic experience of working in culturally diverse contexts to respond to Gabriel Gbadamosi’s essay I Was Born by A River, and the questions it raises for arts and cultural diversity in civil society.
Artists Kunle Animashaun, Laragh Pittman, Vukasin Nedeljkovic, Dylan Tighe, and Rosaleen McDonagh responded.
I come from Africa. My upbringing as a Yoruba from the western part of Nigeria taught me from childhood to uphold the values of the African culture. Yes, I tenaciously adhere to the passion for life and conviviality. Some of my past acquaintances will attest to the enthusiastic affirmation of my identity whenever I am confronted with the sometimes needless but yet frequently asked question: 'Where are you from?' - the type of insolence or playfully rude schematics I sometimes had to confront when I came over here. Still, I love the land. It is indeed a lovely place to be. A place where the words 'to belong' have made me to constantly ruminate about what identity means. After having lived here for over a decade, sometimes, I tend to wonder what determines my identity. Is it the pulsating heartbeat of zest that envelops my consciousness just thinking about my ancestral lineage, or the red passport that says I’m now counted as an insider (or almost) in this land of the shamrock? Like me, many of the immigrants in Ireland today are proving to us that they are very eager to integrate and contribute to the well-being of Irish society. I sincerely believe that my cultural tenacity and that of many immigrants like me can pay a big part in making this country greater. Now, what better area to start than in the arts? Gabriel Gbadamosi’s essay about the need for art to reflect the societies we live in is very much on point. Apart from asking fundamental questions about identity and belonging, the arts bring out the pride in a people, the pride of place, of living and the conversations. The importance of immigrant self-representation in Ireland as a way of promoting understanding across ethnic and racial groups should be a welcome development and will undoubtedly augur well for the country in the long run. Hopefully, the Arts Council of Ireland and relevant organizations are taking note.
Kunle Animashaun is a writer, poet and dramatist. He is the artistic director of Camino Productions, African Irish Theatre Company. He is currently the Artistic Director in residence at the Tallaght Community Arts, based in RUA RED, Tallaght, Dublin 24.
Gabriel Gbadamosi’s London is particular and experienced. It’s a subjective view of the English Capital; it’s a sense of place and time, its Westminster and Vauxhall, its London Irish and Black British. There is no such thing as one experience of being Irish either; Ireland has to become more receptive to its own variety of peoples, their voices and perceptions. Supporting creative initiatives and funding culturally diverse arts practitioners, is I think, essential to the health of the nation, and to helping reveal the multiple layers of Irish Society. During the last two years, I have worked on a participatory art project with a group of women from Ireland, France, India, Uganda, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. We set out to explore Dublin together, to uncover traces of migration from the past and present evident in the fabric of the city. The finds were showcased in 'The Museum Of The Re-Found' (June 2013); posing the idea that we do all have this knowledge of diversity and plurality, we just have to find it again, or find what may have been hidden from us, and see the world through different eyes.
Gbadamosi writes convincingly about the need for the arts to reflect the diversity of society, and how identity can be complex and multifaceted. The recent scandal concerning racial profiling of the Roma community in Ireland shows how dangerous stereotyping can be. The arts can’t eradicate prejudice, poverty and disadvantage, but listening to and learning from the virtuosity of Roma musicians now living amongst us might help to create a broader understanding.
Visual artist Laragh Pittman was the recipient of an Artist in the Community Award, 2013 working with the International Womens’ Group, Lantern Centre for the project The Museum of the Re-Found. An exhibition took place in the centre in June. Laragh is continuing to work with the women in the group. http://www.museumoftherefound.ie/index.html
Is cultural diversity possible in Ireland?
How to pursue integration when our ethnic minorities, Traveller, Roma and Asylum seekers community are being isolated, ghettoized and removed from the rest of the society? We can only talk about cultural diversity when every individual regardless of race and ethnicity is being treated with respect and dignity, when racism and intolerance are not permitted and when ethnic communities are not perceived as 'Other'.
Then as regards culture, the crucial question is, as Grant Kester asks, how to create a collaborative and collective space where individuals from other social and political subcultures can contribute or take part in this society? (1)
Kester continues: '…Working in conjunction with local activists and NGOs, they (artists) initiated a series of platforms designed to facilitate local resistance….'
'We have failed to grasp the reality of our diversity we still make art in boxes', Gabriel Gbadamosi clearly states. He considerably argues that we 'know nothing about each other' and that the 'movement within our society escapes us'.
Can the 'slow activism', as described by Wallace Heim, be a potential solution in the Irish discourse? As she puts it, 'The locus of change is one person at a time, in a process of communication, which is dependent on finding enough common meaning between the artist and participant to sustain a dialogue. ...The activist potential for change develops in the time it takes to speak about something, and for it to be "listened" into existence.' (2)
Therefore the role of an artist is to be an active participant, a catalyst that promotes constructive dialogue among different participants of culturally diverse sector in this particular case.
Rather then a figure that stands outside of society, engaged in an internal singular dialogue.
1. Collaboration, Art and Subcultures, Grant H. Kester in Notebook Videobrasil 02-Art Mobility Sustainability, 2006.
2. Slow activism: homelands, love and the lightbulb, Wallace Heim, Sociological Review, Volume 51, Issue Supplement s2, pages 183–202, October 2003.
Vukasin Nedeljkovic is a photographer/visual artist, currently studying for a PhD in the Centre for Transcultural Research and Media Practice, DIT. His work Asylum Archive is directly concerned with the reality and trauma of life for asylum seekers. Asylum Archive is based on his personal experience of being an asylum seeker and living in direct provision hostels.
I was born by the sea.
Growing up in south Dublin in the 80s, when I looked at TV everyone looked and sounded just like me. In school I looked around and everyone looked like me. (Anyone who didn't look like us was judged on how well they could mimic us.) Later, working as an actor, I would look out from the stage every night and everyone in the audience looked just like me too. It took me a while to realise that something was toxically wrong with this state of affairs. It began to dawn on me that what I took for my 'society', my 'culture' was nothing more than a fractured jigsaw, many pieces of which had been disappeared. Adapting Gabriel’s maxim, my efforts were to make a theatre that reflected the society I didn’t know.
I believed that a new form of collaboration and representation was needed to combat Irish Theatre’s othering of Travellers over many decades. With The Trailer of Bridget Dinnigan, which re-imagined Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba in collaboration with Irish Traveller women, I felt it simply essential that Travellers represent and perform themselves on stage, through their own words and voices. This would have to be done in a democratic environment where Travellers and non-Travellers could participate as equals in public space, something still denied on many levels, - a place where, to quote Gabriel, 'the values of art' could be forged to find a 'common space'.
The official guardians of the Irish canon can, however, often appear resistant to such innovations. My efforts to present early results of our revised national ideal on the stage of our national theatre were unsuccessful, equally so my efforts to have the final script listed in the Irish Playography to aid future production and reference, due to claims that the work was 'performed by a non-professional cast'.
Gabriel's piece invites us to reflect on the deep absences and wounds in the Irish narrative this side of the Irish Sea. Where are the voices of those in direct provision, for example, - already a new generation of stolen and abused Irish? Are our cultural infrastructures complicit in their silence, and the silence of other vital narratives, or are we truly ready and equipped to create and facilitate the formation of a new national canon?
As the great bard of Brixton Linton Kwesi Johnson proclaimed- 'There ain’t no black in the Union Jack'; Beyond the tribal colour scheme there ain’t no colour in the tricolour either, nor horseshoe, nor wagon wheel. Like a nightmare from which we cannot awake a large pillar of white stands firm forever standing guard. Isn’t it about time we imagined new flags, new institutions, and new forms to, in Gabriel’s words, 'celebrate the reality of our diversity'?
Dylan Tighe is an actor, writer, musician and director. His latest work is RECORD. The Trailer of Bridget Dinnigan, his adaptation, with Catherine Joyce, of Lorca’s La Casa de Bernarda Alba, was staged at Project Arts Theatre in 2010 and at Axis in 2011.
Gbadamosi’s article, 'I was born by a river' suggests in resignation that 'plays get written; theatres get filled; the arts go on; society doesn’t fall apart - so what’s the problem?' The problem is tokenism. In Ireland we don’t take risks. The politics of representation is often outweighed by the so called importance of the narrative – but the narrative always comes from a place of representation.
Interculturalism rather than multiculturalism is hard to achieve. It requires continuity and consistency not just once-off funding grants. Being a Traveller with an impairment - working in theatre - mentioning diversity or equality often gets hushed; whispers of 'settle down' are murmured. The assumption being in liberal and artistic circles that racism or inequality does not exist. It exists in objectification of Travellers by settled writers and performers similar to the phenomena of 'cripping up'.
Theatre companies and venues need to be resourced and supported to be inclusive of artists, practitioners and audiences from diverse backgrounds. Affirmative action initiatives are called for on both fronts to build the confidence of Travellers and to create a body of authentic work by Traveller artists.
Interculturalism is a challenge to the Traveller artist. Self segregation is part of a process that should lead an artist into a more collaborative way of making work. The tendency is to start from within a Traveller framework in the development of a piece. However, restricting oneself to cultural norms or isolating your position doesn’t move the work forward beyond that starting point of isolation or tokenism. The euphoria of an opening night where diverse groups take centre stage is breathtaking. Yet as the applause peters out stagnation ensures positions of power and influence within the Arts sector never change –we’re safe from the detriments of diversity!
Rosaleen McDonagh is a playwright. She has just been selected as one of five writers to take part in Write to Play, a new writing initiative from Graeae in partnership with some of the UK’s leading theatres, the National Theatre Studio, the Royal Court and the Soho Theatre.