The Problem with Diaspora Art


So this week’s text has been on the back burner for a while. I’ve flip-flopped between ~doing the takedown~, uncomfortable with airing this within earshot of whiteness, and also not rly giving a fuck about what i think, bc who am I?! I do still think I’m uncomfortable having this conversation so publicly (bc sometimes it is better to keep things between ourselves), but i also want to solidify it here on the white pube. i’m ok writing this baby essay without accounting for whiteness. I also think that part of my issue w this topic is the vacuum of criticism/critical attention, so I would like to use this text to draw a circle around it - or have it as a starting point from which to unfold. either way… I want to talk about Diaspora Art.

i need to define it, so I will give you a solid example of what I mean. also I want to only speak to / about the work that appears within the context of the South Asian Diaspora specifically; that’s all my agency as a writer extends to. I’m thinking of HateCopy and Babbu the Painter. in the UK: this thread of thinking began summer ’17 when I visited Burnt Roti’s Beauty of Being British Asian, a group show in the Old Truman Brewery, London. I think most of the work that was in the Burnt Roti show fell into the category of Diaspora Art as I am defining it here, and I am particularly thinking of (without singling them out! j pointing for clarity of the definition) Manveer Matharu’s ‘How I Drive My Car’ and Jasmin Sehra’s BollyHood paintings {all examples pictured >>}. A more recent example would be 2001: Pressure Makes Diamonds, a film made by Kazim Rashid, and also the title of an accompanying exhibition at Rich Mix over most of September. Though I didn’t see the show, and can’t find any traces of the meat of it online, i have been able to find the film and in my mind it illustrates what i mean when I say Diaspora Art.

I want to now define the characteristics that set Diaspora Art apart from simply Art Made Within the South Asian Diaspora, because I wouldn’t say that Diaspora Art is defined solely by the identity of the artists that make it; it’s rather in how these artists handle their identity as an object to deploy within the work, to circulate or interact with other devices. I spoke about this with Imran Perretta, who said, ‘the critical moment, for me, is in taking something recognisably South Asian, something recognisably British, and creating a binary juxtaposition between the two…pointing at two or more things with a seemingly dissonant cultural context, including people and objects, and uncritically repurposing them as artworks in and of themselves.’ In the binary of juxtaposition, it’s implied that the correlation (or the rift between them) acts as a metaphor or a vehicle to talk about the duality of identity within diaspora. I have a problem with that. Firstly, the juxtaposition feels tired and worn; though I am not really an advocate of reading theory, i feel that there are times when it is useful (like right now) esp since this is something Homi Bhabha covered in The Location of Culture, where he wrote about the third space and hybridity. Diaspora Art feels tied to a cycle of dealing with the condition of duality that the diasporic body rests in. I will go on to talk about why that is, bUT… Secondly, and i think this is the kicker, that this metaphor/vehicle operates on a level that is purely AESTHETIC. it’s something underneath the skin of all of the examples, above ^^, the reconditioning they go thru is one that prepares them aesthetically. The juxtaposition is always one of objects or ideas or even events visibly coded as Cultured™️ - as in, they are tied inextricably to a culture and deployed without meaning or narrative as stabilisers/ backbone within the work. I don’t know how this aesthetic level works in relation to its location; maybe it exists purely aesthetically because the way that weight interacts/reacts on instagram and generally around the internet, driving a production that circulates like wildfire through the algorithms;; or maybe that’s just a side-effect of the aesthetic level (rather than a driving factor). it’s emerged into a position of prominence/visiblity/popularity that’s somehow related to the way ​Instagram has trickled into the peripheral vision of the visual arts. In this surface-level aesthetic inaction, that’s where I lose patience. Diaspora Art exists purely in the realm of visual metaphor, visual delivery; and as such, it’s never really wholly satisfying.

Of this dissatisfaction, Imran says: ‘I think it’s uncritical in its statement… it’s great that this work exists but I feel like it's a means to an end. It seems to be produced within creative scenes where people do everything (they’re artists, illustrators, filmmakers, influencers, art directors, photographers, brand consultants – etc) and that lack of focus is maybe a problem for the artwork produced. It appropriates a subversive aesthetic but really it feels commercial and so I’m not sure who it's for.’ I think this feels accurate, and describes well the way Diaspora Art functions and thrives within a strong and tightly-knit scene. The lack of focus in the makers’ disciplines & subsequent commerciality of the work feels like more of a product of neoliberalism; telling us that we must have 3 different jobs and side-hustles, commodify and monetise every aspect of our skill set, even our hobbies (even even our identities?). I think there’s more weight to how the scene functions as a Belonging to an insular community that doesn’t hear or pay regard to anything coming in from the Outside. While normally I am a fierce advocate of Network Fatigue n other protective strategies, ESPECIALLY in communities of creatives/makers of colour! In this specific instance, I’m distinctly aware that this is perhaps less of a conscious strategy, and more about the scene acting as an echo-chamber. Earlier when I mentioned that Diaspora Art feels like it’s still stuck on dealing with the condition of duality in which the Diasporic body rests; i think this explains it, qualifies it as a threat to progression/action because of the way this vacuum of external perspective (beyond praise!) works. It is fundamentally a shallow replicative representation, because while it claims to engage with a baseline fundamental of the South Asian experience (in its instrumentalisation of visual signifiers) and the subsequent politic that unfolds from that; the fact that it’s purely an aesthetic engagement reduces this interaction to vague universality that skims over sticky intersections (like that of caste, perhaps sexuality?, definitely class is never spoken of critically, despite it being a conversation a lot of ppl are desperate to have!, region is a big blind spot, and religious specificity). The dominance of North- Indian voices in the scene feels conspicuous in relation to this too. I think this is where criticism comes in. It’s possible there’s a rejection, maybe just a disinterest in criticism bc the role production plays within these scenes is really just about presence and morale. Criticism doesn’t enter it bc it’s not ever critical of the output produced, only fundamentally happy to be there, with no need or space for further reflection. I am deeply skeptical of that as a strategy or format of making, mostly bc i think it lends itself to an inertia - both in the aesthetic and the actual politics of the work. The aesthetic and politic, both, in this drive towards only the end-game of representation (the = of that formula of presence + morale), fall flat in their demands. I think that flatness is representative of wider problems (that i’ll expand on below, as i talk about the institutions that interact w these scenes, but also), bc representation cannot ever be the sum all of our expectations for equality or equity. I am reminded almost constantly that there are people cleverer and more sensitive than me that have written about this, and I’ll defer to Christopher Kirubi who, in their zine These Institutions Should Belong To Us, wrote: ‘On one side there is a need to see ourselves reflected in positions of agency power and self determination in a world which does not really wish to see us thrive at all and on the other, an understanding that representation is itself a system of power which is built not to liberate, but to exclude, trap and to uphold a capitalist patriarchal heteronormative and white supremacist status quo.’ And tbh if that is not the best, most well- rounded sentence to describe the problem w representation as the only end goal of political action, ur havin a laff.

I can sit here and be critical, but i am also distinctly aware of the nuance in this all. I spoke to Sharan Dhaliwal, Founder of Burnt Roti, about the problem with the dearth of criticism within these scenes. Of this, she says: ‘Criticism within these spaces is really difficult to take on board. There’s an understanding that it’s useful as a move to further and progress our art. But there’s actually still a lot of pain and trauma, there’s a feeling that that’s still there, its an emotional thing and sometimes critical feedback can be an affront’. and i wholly sympathise and understand this! also, tbh maybe it’s also that art critics have almost always ever been a) a specific identity (~ish), and honestly how interested is a white guy who did an MA in Critical theory @ the RCA gonna be in this? how would he even know this is going on! b) even if he did, those kinds of critics aren’t gona write about it bc it doesn’t appear serious. Diaspora Art is, arguably, a kind of outsider art. it functions outside of the structural pipeline of The Academy, The Institution, The Museum. And criticism and critical feedback is so embedded within that pipeline, with or without the presence or necessity of the ​Critic as a formalised or self-designated role. These DIY scenes that produce Diaspora Art, as outside of that formal pipeline, aren’t quite entirely indoctrinated in the way it’s ~supposed~ to work when ur on the Inside; what criticism actually would look like, what critical feedback does, how you go about it without making everything a personal affront. The Academy (the process of going through ~4 years of art school) slowly eases us into the process of regular crits, teaching us that the most valuable thing we have in the building is each other. So maybe it’s not a complete rejection of critical attention, it is probably also a vicious circle that critics never come and so, unaware of what they’re missing, the makers don’t think to notice (fair enuf, i also wouldn’t). it can be hard making when all you hear is endless noise about how well you’ve done just even making something. And this is now no longer me speaking exclusively about Diaspora Art; i think this is a problem across the span of ~regional cities~ and tbh most often along the layer of the artist led. Anywhere where there is a scarcity of resources and opportunity;;; this feeling reoccurs, that, “it’s j nice that it’s happened”. And I think that speaks a lot to the wider position that Diaspora Art sits in, it feels most comfortably aligned with the problems plaguing the artist-led.

In that, i do wonder if this problem feels like an uneven worry? Is this now turning into a weird kind of snobbery, the elitism of me, comparatively an insider, criticising Diaspora Art for being happy outside of the formal pipeline and doctrine that Criticism is Necessary? Am I speaking from an art skl ivory tower, with 4 years of subtle brainwashing that has formed my preconception of everything; from aesthetic taste to what I can and will accept as critical reasoning? Am i unfairly burdening Diaspora Artists with carrying the weight of the representation they sincerely seek, in a way i’d ~not be arsed~ if it came from a white DIY scene? I think yes, that is entirely possible. I don’t know what else to do other than acknowledge that and add that it’s possible that Art Skl ruined me lmao. Imran also made a pertinent point, that, ‘people have made their own scene and that’s sick! The caveat is that maybe they’re happy for the work to be disseminated in their circle (irl and url) and never extend beyond it.’ This is surely an achievement to be celebrated. it’s an accomplishment that many can’t claim, despite their best efforts, and I’ve got no theoretical problem with applying insularity as a protective mechanism. However, Imran went on to say, ‘but then it probably never tests the waters of focussed critique…in defence of the academy, so many deeply engaged people go through these avenues, where, for better or worse, you learn to be hyper-critical, however problematic that can end up being. Sometimes, I see well intentioned DIY scenes gravitate instead towards brands because they also need something institutional to orbit. So the creative output often ends up being commercial and purely aesthetic. The work probably is never critiqued, bc it’s function becomes about morale and accruing social capital (aka BRAND capital) rather than having difficult, honest convos. So in this sense the work will always end up being DIDACTIC.’ - here I wana define DIDACTIC as a description of the monotone instruction that Diaspora Art emits, that it prescribes how it’s intended to be Read.

In the ^above^ sentence from Imran, i’m gonna lose my actual mind, bc that’s such an eloquent way of presenting the friction, n brands subsuming the space of institutions makes me wana SCREAM. Diaspora Art, as a DIY scene, ends up congealing around brands (rather than the metaphorical art-world institutions) in an explicitly direct way. Hatecopy is now making swoosh pins into chillis for Nike; Babbu has fully just started making apparel. While the US duo ^above^ were, in my mind, the first prominent Diaspora Artists; the UK crop that came up behind them are doing things in a way that’s less cynically capitalistic or less obviously about monetising ur work into a recognisable business model. Kazim Rashid’s film premiered with 4:3/Boiler Room (idk, is that like RedBull Music adjacent? a soft-art brand corporate excursion?). Jasmin Sehra is working with/within 100% institutions like the Tate for the Tate collective’s LDNWMN commission (her mural of Mala Sen stands outside the Old Truman Brewery), but she’s also worked with the Evening Standard to design the cover of their Progress 1000 book. Although idk if ES are a brand as recognisable as Nike, they fall closer to brand than institution for me. I do however know that the art world in its most serious or prestigiously highbrow ~Inside form, OF COURSE has deeply tangled ties with private funders far more nefarious than George Osbourne’s lil recycling-fodder rag. And tbh private funders like brands often pay better money than these institutions, provide greater visibility (art is rly q exclusive, we been knew), and tbh, paying ur rent on time n still being able to afford repurchasing a moisturiser feels miles more important than the ephemeral ~prestige~ of only working with Art Brands w ~Intellectual~ credentials. I just think something happens when the order goes like this:

  1. making within an insular DIY scene, happy to be here
  2. critique unable to penetrate insulation, it’s ok bc representation is the sum of our expectation here
  3. accruing social capital thru instagram - representation as our demand is gathering visibility in an attention economy that values liberatory language over decisive political action.
  4. self-organise something? be visible IRL on ur own
  5. brands take note, offer u cheques
  6. then??

Before I get into that 6) ??, i think let’s rewind briefly. back to the content of Diaspora Art’s engagement n friction with the Political. In its skimming over of the lumps of the diasporic experience, does it not only flatten, but capitulate to the white gaze? Sharan (Burnt Roti) says, probably, ye. ‘There’s a lot that we’re doing for the understanding/consumption of the white gaze, inside and outside of the art world. Even in ~embracing urself~ by wearing bindis, a lot of that is aesthetically built for the white gaze, to be understood or accepted.’ I asked her why is whiteness our centre in that scenario? to which she answered, ‘It’s easier for us to accept ourselves if other people do as well.’ With this, i wholeheartedly agree, but arguably it only serves to reinforce or remind a white audience of our historical proximity to whiteness; a proximity that’s emboldened by the flattening of the sticky nuance of intersections. Imran also said something parallel to this, ‘unadulterated celebration of beauty feels facile bc it uses whiteness as its centre, from which to depart in dissension, but as its centre nonetheless. It’s exceptionalism, “these are the acceptable asians, these are the ones we like, they pass”. We should do better justice to these socio-cultural relations, u can never accomplish that w a 7 min video about ~beautiful Asians~.’ I rewind to reiterate n expand on this previous point bc along w the timeline in the paragraph above, NOT TO SOUND LIKE A CONSPIRACY THEORIST HERE, but this all culminates in a DIY scene naive enough to believe the hype of their own good press. The points made by Sharan and Imran are important specifically considering:: what happens when their audience extends beyond the Scene alone? What happens when the curators in the Tate office look to Instagram (as we know they often do) to scout talent for their next venture? i worry that the something that happens is co- opting. I worry that step 6) is the galleries, the Institution as a part of that Pipeline sees something of value outside of itself and its familiar structures, and longs to absorb this External Thing for its own end.

I want to start this point with an Illustration in so many words, to take this messy worry out of the realm of Theory and Word and into Action and Experience. I spoke to Priya Jay, a Researcher, about her work with Patchwork Archivists. Rather than interrupt her words, i think maybe it’s best I just let my v hasty transcription of her part of our conversation speak instead of me. ‘We [Patchwork Archivists] never really established ourselves as art ppl, or what we do as a kind of art. We wanted to operate through creative means, in the process of decolonising the way histories are taught and make things more embodied, while undoing what we know as a valid form of learning.’ This began taking the form of what the art world describes as workshops, but tbh aren’t they also conversations? A kind of haptic learning? ‘People started seeing us as artists, and we started getting arts opportunities. In that, there was an immediate discomfort, bc the very nature of our work required it to be accessible, as activism or work. We had been suggested by well-intentioned friends to do some work alongside/with a show, as part of the public program, at a well known and reasonably sized gallery. We had free reign, and it was given with wonderful intention, and resources! But because it was in a gallery, majority of our workshop attendees were not South Asian… For us, it’s not about exposure with art crowds, it’s about doing good work with the ppl we wana reach; sometimes art complicates that. It’s EASY to be pulled into a situation where ur doing workshops @ Tate, but that pulls you further from community-based work. We had to rethink the work we’d done, what we weren’t happy with. Because we’re not an art collective, we had been folded into that. Personally and professionally, it was easier to fold it into that for me, but not for the others. The question was raised; “are we just talking about patchwork to get some kind of credit? that’s not ok, that’s not what it’s about.” Why can’t we just do the work we wana do without it being a part of someone else’s public program. It makes it difficult to do this work with integrity. Bc atm activism, rethinking, decolonising is so TRENDY, and we don’t necessarily want a trendy platform, those aren’t the ppl we wana reach.’ Now, although neither Priya, nor the work done by Patchwork Archivists, falls into the category of Diaspora Art(ist) in my mind or by my own definitions; I believe this is still an experience worth considering in relation to the tangled mess I’m trying to circle. What she and Patchwork Archivists managed to realise, is that work with Institutions (however wonderfully intentioned), in the same way as work with Brands, is often less about doing the work you really want or need to sink your teeth into. It’s rarely ever satisfactory or capable of supporting the provision of critical feedback that can be lacking in those insular DIY scenes. There’s rarely ever an instance where a moment of clarity is provided by the structures of the institution, where we can see the nuance of it all for ourselves; where the clouds part and waves crash. Rather, they act as a filter of opaque solid. i didn’t know what obfuscate rly meant, but once i looked it up, i reckon they often do that; make obscure, unclear, or unintelligible.

And so this now unfolds into a tangled mess of wires bigger than Diaspora Art, bigger than Me and bigger than You & us All. Be it individually or institutionally, this white gaze is emitted from ​the same white art world bodies. These are the same bodies that are so ~progressive n liberal~ that in 2017 they were shocked(!) by LD50’s platforming of overt fascists, rather than aware of their own complicity in allowing the gallery’s unchallenged organising, their proximity to that all; or outraged at the lack of seriousness that the wider rise of the far-right within the creative industry had been treated with before/after that moment. They are the same bodies (institutional and individual) that are speaking in defence of Luke Willis Thompson’s Autoportrait as ‘radical’, or even just ~not-actual- violence-only- theory~, capable of nuance and engaging in discourse (like discourse is the level of the stakes in that conversation!)

Individually, i argue Diaspora Art capitulates to the white gaze’s well-intentioned drive to understand, sympathise, but never to overthrow, act, or change. The audience it hits is happy with the liberatory or celebratory language of the aesthetics, as long as those aesthetics are inert in their demands. This inertia in the aesthetics deployed by Diaspora Art is actively praised and weaponised by this individual white desire to ~understand~. Art, as a Thing, is AS A FORMAT incapable of unpicking the absolute shitstorm of these issues without plunging itself into sincere investment in political organising with disregard for production/output; which requires care, reflection, self-effacing assessment in a continual process, and also! radical rejection of the demands of capitalism’s constant pressure to produce visibly that same output. It’s an impossible task for us all! Made all the more difficult by the Institution.

And of The Institution, its specific flavour of plural ~white gaze~ is measured and calculated, or at least appears so. In its search for novelty and the cutting-edge of discourse, what else can it do other than pick up people - Makers, Creatives, and Discourse-wallahs - it sees as ~trendy, visible, and capable of pulling crowds~? This seems inevitable. But interactions with them are never easy, like a monkey’s paw wish, it takes as it gives, never leaves you feeling full and satisfied. Speaking candidly to Sharan about Burnt Roti’s interactions with institutions, she’s distinctly underwhelmed by it all. 'What actually comes out of it all? for me, for the artists i’m working with? nothing!’ She admits that maybe these interactions materialise into clout, ‘more ppl know me, but is that good? financially it’s got worse. it’s worth it bc ofc ~passion! the conversations we’re having are valuable and ppl come up to me and thank me which is wild. In those individual moments of accepting and understanding, if Burnt Roti can do that, great! But being in the public eye in this way, being this precarious financially and professionally is making my anxiety a lot lot worse.’ It feels like within the dynamic and experience of working in and around these institutions, there’s a distinct lack of curatorial care. The interactions are short-term, for the day or evening, ur in and ur out. The brevity works to the institution’s favour and the Maker’s detriment. Maker is left without achieving something satisfactory; without support or care, precarious and burnt-out. Their only upside is the visibility, the social capital that they’re left to liquidate into hard capital on their own. The Institution doesn’t have to extend resources beyond a workshop fee and bits n bobs; they’re spared the unfolding cost of sustaining a relationship with a Maker long-term to achieve something more meaningful. it feels like a conscious point that, for example, majority of the Tate’s interaction with creatives of colour comes in the form of their public program that enables brief and unsupportive interactions like this. Priya (Patchwork Archivists) said of this, ‘so many of these things operate within the level of public program. it’s all so public facing, and that’s the extent of their politicality. But then you look at the staff, and they’re so so white. It’s such a disconnect, between who’s actually making the bulk of the rest of the program, and who’s pushed to face the public.’ Ofc the longevity of exhibitions program is only ever extended to poc Makers Of A Certain Level; but there’s no attempt at an in-between. I am literally talking optimistically about a model that doesn’t rly exist in any prominent UK Institution. Priya continued, 'That’s where it’s performative or where the performance of the activism unfolds. Things j become about using a radical/political tone to get visitors through the door’ or to get trendy people on their seasonal program byline, ‘rather than instrumentalise or take actual action. it’s not sustainable to create real or meaningful change on any side.'

Simply put, the emphasis on public program provides an easy option. It is much easier to manage/predict expectation and outcome by getting in people who will talk about the difficulties without ever including reflection or concluding on a decisive path for concrete action. When the event is over, the institution is then ​released of an obligation to follow-through, offer support or resources beyond the initial courtesy of offering a momentary platform. Bc why would the Institution bring in people who are willing/in a position to critique them and their position within this all? Unless they were willing to absorb or ignore that critique - something that requires more effort than a gesture towards exposure & ~maybe financial compensation for ur labour. The gallery gets public program, an outcome whose contextual usefulness cannot and should not be understated. Be it as part of their ~corporate social responsibility~, if u will. For them, to be reaching out to work with makers w marginalised identities so heavily/exclusively within the realm of public program, means they can then go back to funders (private or public) w better diversity figures (while spending fewer ££s), to morally prove they are on side with ~trendy~ social justice movements, argue they are fulfilling a still! undefined! Creative Case for Diversity (which has still been left open- ended by Arts Council England! leaving it liable to be filled with vague attempts that only serve to excuse Institutions from being held accountable for their own efforts towards materialising those same cases for diversity.) It’s also creating public value for their visitors, important at a time where the arts are precarious in public/political perception(!) as a worthy recipient of public funding, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, simultaneously collapsing the public programme into their outreach efforts that seek to engage ‘hard to reach audiences’ - which typically means the young poc who are currently either bored by what’s on offer (rightly so), or suspicious of the Institution’s actions and motives. ALL THE WHILE, there’s never actually ANYTHING DONE to implement structural or organisational change that could be as simple and small as hiring more people of colour across every department and in key positions of power/influence. Or, even simpler, maybe just listening to the criticisms raised by the POC already within the 4 walls of the gallery and enabling them, with a smidge of agency and resources, to implement the change they want! this collapsing of outreach efforts feels like the most cynical and bothersome part here, because it means they can appear to be attempting to move towards engagement w these groups! without actually doing any of the work needed to maintain this relationship over the long term. and when the relationship dissolves, when the visitors don’t return, the Institution continues!! pretending all outreach is j a point of Beginning rather than one of Maintaining the relationships they make as they go along.

And in all of this, are the Makers, the Diaspora Artists. Actually, or any of the poc Makers, not just Diaspora Artists. Are they ever recompensed for their time/labour representatively, for all the benefit they bring to the institution? all the benefits listed above, is that all representatively compensated? ur lying if u tell me yes bc literally NOWHERE would do that, it would be laughed out of the curatorial meeting. Are these relationships EVER given the option of being long-term? sustainably productive in a way ONLY long- term projects can be? do Makers ever feel like they walk away from these institutional interactions fairly recompensed? (not that these exchanges are only useful in transactional terms, but are they fundamentally equitable?) These questions are answered quite clearly by the fact that the Institution remains, remarkably not too dissimilar from the Institution that existed previously. They haven’t changed, they haven’t disappeared; they still stand on the banks of the fucking Thames. At the same time, the activists and Makers of the 60s or 70s or 80s or 90s are either paraded around in bi-annual retrospectives that only nod to the ghost of their historical radicality (in wall text or catalogue, or worse, a talk on a Tuesday evening that’s £12 a ticket without concessions); or they are burnt out and forgotten. Awaiting their unearthing in an archive somewhere, a fate they cannot rely on with any definacy other than luck of the draw. This way, the institution outlives us all. Chews us up, swallows, digests and shits. We lie, steaming. Ourselves, our social capital, our output: Consumed. Not to be too dramatic about it all, though.

The Institution reaps endless benefit from engaging w POC makers too precarious to hold up a clear challenge to their internal practices, their intention and politics; or tbh! too stable to want to! the public program they churn out is gestural, positioning itself as genuine enquiry that leads to nowhere developmentally. (what should public program actually be doing? i mean, not this. and i’m not entirely sure it’s these makers’ faults. The institutions here are proportionally to blame!) Although in terms of professional development, it is a step for an individual maker;; is it beneficial for the long term, sustainable as a practice to span a career? I’m skeptical! Because that sustenance is dependent on too many variables that aren’t self-determined by being in our own hands. It’s dependent on white/institutional appetite for Diversity & Inclusion talk, for diversity being hot on the lips and minds of all those concerned and well-intentioned enough to care, and important enough to influence opinion. It’s also dependent on the social capital of the Maker being strong enough to carry them through, and although this accumulates through these interactions w the institution, when does that ever translate from social capital into hard ££s!? What to do when the social capital dries up and attention ​economy moves on to the next aesthetic wave? You can be replaced so easily! the institution isn’t rly interested in honest, sincere critique. It would like to either absorb it or deflect it, continue while we are all consumed.

I don’t actually want to end this all on a bum note. I don’t think i’m actually a pessimist, obsessed with identifying only the futility of it all. i do see some hope for change or progress; i have held onto this ever since i read it, but! There was a thread linked to me by Adam Bainbridge a few years ago, by Chrysanthemum Tran, a US-based poet. the thread talked around E Asian race politics n the wider affectation of race politics by neoliberalism. Neoliberalism having convinced us that identity, our experience of race/racism is a singular/individual experience rather than a collective/communal one, shifts racism from a structural/institutional understanding to an individual one - a time wasting exercise if there ever was one, bc it is only through collective action that we begin to be able to demand change from institutions!

THREAD below>>:

'we focus so intensely on individual experiences & microaggressions that we fail to give adequate attention to systems & institutions
the neoliberalization of the asian american political project has resulted in weak critiques that miss the forest for the trees white chef talking abt "the right way to eat pho" got lots of buzz but i didnt see much discourse on gentrification & racialization of labor
it's fucked asian actors make less than white actors but can we also acknowledge economic disparities between diff asian ethnic groups???
my energy definitely does not need to go toward making sure asian actors get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars like white actors do
can asian americans devote as much energy to demilitarization efforts & combating islamophobia as we do media representation?
to conclude, i wish i had better strategies & solutions for how asian americans can mobilize on more urgent matters
to be fair, i do care about media representation as a storyteller, writer & content creator
but i’m less interested in surface level asian american representation in media & more interested in how we can use media strategically'

Chrysanthemum Tran’s thread popped back in to mind when I spoke to Priya about what an outcome could look like. She said, 'it’s not all bad! i don’t think you can j reject that [working with institutions] as a strategy n think u can only work outside of that to make change. when we think of change as only a monolithic thing, it becomes flat. we need to recognise it as inside, outside, something flexible and complex. there’s something to be said of value from this exposure and platforming, it can be what someone needs at that point in their career. it’s not rly it to say that the only thing we can gain from institutions is financial capital. sometimes it’s about being tricky about how you direct power around you. And there are other ways we can open up resources and opportunity for ourselves and our peers. Also once you’re in an institution, how do you protect the people you bring in with you? How do you make sure they’re not treated badly when they’re there on the inside?’ I think we learn how to demand more. Learn how to say no. Harness the real strength and power of our value! I think we unionise, tbh. I think we get as close to a union as possible, and we learn how to better advocate for each other as well as ourselves. Learn to not self-sacrifice, but distribute. I think we act with the entitlement of a white man when inside these spaces, demand the most for our siblings, and drag as many of them in and up with us as possible. I think the only hope we have for progression is in a no tolerance policy for being played with, we make the demands we want, we offer support to each other and demand support from the institution when it isn’t an immediate given. I think these things sound like vague aphorisms, n tbh they fully are. But tbh we’ve also got to recognise that these issues did not, and do not start with us or our production and output. If we want to see change, we have to make it operationally impossible for the Institution until they have to change. Saying all of that, it might not be enough; all the same, but i’d like to try.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to share their thoughts and speak to me about this text: Imran Perretta, Sharan Dhaliwal, and Priya Jay. I owe u all a drink <3

ok, so I KNOW this text is rly rly long, so i've recorded an audio version if u wanna listen to me reading it instead of reading it w ur own eyes. (u can read it w ur ears ygm) j v inspired by guardian long reads, wot can i say uwu)

a pop art style image of a woman saying our beti is an artist question mark, and the man responding says it&rsquo;s all your fault

"Our Beti Is An Artist, It's All Your Fault," a collaborative work by Maria Qamar (HateCopy) and Babneet Lakhesar (Babbu the Painter).

Manveer Matharu stands in front of a painting of a brown woman in the drivers seat pointing a hand out with long nails with her head titled to the side

'How I Drive My Car' by Manveer Matharu (ft. the artist) from artist's website. Shown in Burnt Roti's group show, 'the Beauty of Being British Asian'.

two paintings in the style of posters, one saying &lsquo;the real spice girl, got the power&rsquo; with two brown woman one wearing a long veil, and the second says &lsquo;I have my own control. I can depend on myself&rsquo; and it is three heads against colour and butterflies'

Jasmin Sehra's BollyHood paintings, from artist's website. Shown in Burnt Roti's group show, 'The Beauty of Being British Asian'.