Ethnic Minorities and The Arts.
Art brings out feelings and emotions at times repressed deep under the many layers of our skin and this holds true for arts of all mediums. Still, art from ethnic minorities, seems to come from someplace more sobering. Whether it is a painting or a play, a mask or a scarf, there is always a story just waiting to be told. Sometimes that story is eulogising ancestors and at other times it is praising rivers and mountains. However, the undertone often carries a yearning for a better life. And it is this ‘yearning for a better life’, which makes ethnic minorities’ artworks, a sui generis, a class of their own.
The Visible Divide
Sadly, the art world is still waking up to the intensity and soul these unique artworks carry. Hence more often than not, ethnic minority art remains under-appreciated.
According to Prospect Magazine, ‘People from various ethnic minorities make up approximately 7.9% of the population in UK, yet only 4% of the arts workforce.’ And Spread the Word, ‘Less than 1% of poetry books that are published in UK are by either a black or an Asian poet.’
And it is not just the majority of population that is not interested in ethnic minorities’ art, the ethnic minority population too has kept a distance from the arts that the majority of population follow. According to a study by Museums Association UK in 2008, ‘only 7% of the people working in museums come from a minority ethnic background.’
Distinctive Ethnic Minority Arts
Ethnic minorities are population groups of a smaller size with distinct cultural and historical identity. They come from throughout the world, from South America to the Caribbean Islands, Africa to Asia. It will be justified to say that these art pieces are thought of as heritage and thus passing them from one generation to the next is part of the culture.
As ethnic populations make new lands their home and try settling among strange people, their art also changes its discourse. The practice appears all the more bonded with their culture. Their history takes centre stage and their current struggles related to migration are repeated again and again for the community to draw inspired from.
Artistic production for ethnic minorities is also about the struggle for political participation and creating impact in the environment they are currently living in. Artworks are not just a tangible item for them to look at or touch, it is an intangible thought for them to pride upon, own and belong to.
The Difference in Perspective
For most of us, art is about individuality - writing about ‘myself,’ painting ‘my’ interest, creating something ‘mine.’ We consider arts equivalent to freedom. For ethnic minorities, arts is about community - empowerment of a group, bringing generations together and celebrating culture. They also indulge in the arts to develop their practice and hence increase awareness and employment opportunities. It is this difference of perspective that marks a divide between these two words.
Ethnic Minority Arts in the Shadows
The dominant words that come to mind when we think of the arts as contemporary art, opera, ballet, theatre, art galleries and classical music et al. Such art-tagged activities often sound little elitist or posh. Like it or not, ‘the arts’ have become associated with the caucasian-metropolitan middle-upper class.
This association has pushed the ethnic arts to the background. Ethnic minorities do consider museums and galleries to be valuable but they also consider them to be ‘upper class’ and thus not for them.
Apart from such stereotypes, ethnic minority’s art have also suffered neglect by the authorities, which are there to protect them. Minority arts are always short of critical funding, bureaucracy too keeps shuttling them as to if it is the job of the arts department or the minority department to back them.
Increasing Ethnic Minority Participation in Arts
Ethnic minorities can only feel welcomed in the current global art scene when their diversities are recognised and their history cherished. ‘Arts’ should feel relatable to them. Efforts should be taken where they can encounter the arts specific to their own life and experience.
It is not just the exposure of the ethnic population to the arts that should be promoted, so should be the exposure of the non-ethnic population to ethnic arts.