Minority Presence in Contemporary British Art
"Highly visible yet evasively mute."
Art critic Kobena Mercer, comments on the current position of African and Asian artists in Contemporary British Art, when he suggests that minority artists are seen and not heard. This oxymoronic position derives from a long historical legacy of European colonization and the emphasis on 'racial inferiority' and 'otherness.' On the one hand, British art is progressive, allowing some minority art in the general art world. Yet on the other hand minority art is still marginalized by the preferential treatment given to white artists. There is a strong degree of accuracy in Mercer's statement because while minority art can now be 'seen,' the 'voice' is suppressed when the 'ethnic element' is too strong. Subordination comes in many forms. Not only do minority artists have a limited gallery presence in major galleries, but finding information on them can be utterly impossible when the current focus of British art revolves around what it means to be British. The only minority artists that are visible are artists who either play up white stereotypes or allude to a Western artistic tradition. An examination of these artists and the current art climate, indicate that the visible presence of minority artists is controlled by preconceived traditions and perceptions.
The difficulties facing minority artists in Britain today relate to the current climate of the art world. A quiet tug-o-war exists between the effort to globalize the British art and return to white dominance. Multiculturalism is everywhere; however, it often plays an artificial role in that its purpose is to fulfill a quota. The predominately white yBa movement defines the current art world. The characteristics of this movement are its common derivation from the Freeze exhibition (1988), a preoccupation with images of the media, sex, presenting images for shock-value, as well as its 'one-liner' effect and the dominance of white artists. The yBa movement is said to establish new ideas of Britishness in a postmodern world. Yet, Mercer goes so far as to say that the movement is in part a reaction to the attempt to globalize the British art world: "At this stage it is precisely the discrepancy between parochial yBa inwardness and the art world internatialism that obliges us to interrogate the ideology of New British Art as a defensive, and, above all, regressive response to the bewildering effects of globalization" The 'important art' (as seen by Saatchi and The Tate) returns to a concern with British identity that fails to comment on how diversity has changed that identity. By turning inward as a reaction to globalization, British art regresses and fuels a return to 'white dominance.' As a result, multicultural art lacking Western referents become suppressed.
While there are movements to prevent this subordination of multiculturalism, their range of influence is limited. The Institute of International...