Informally aware, of social problems such as racism and inequality
The creative sector is one of the UK’s fastest growing industries and contributed £101.5 billion to the economy in 2017. However, although this is a thriving and growing business with an influx of Black, Asian, Minority and Ethnic (BAME) people entering the industry there they still only represent 6.6% of the lucrative sector. With music, performing and visual arts one of the sectors that has increased employment by 34.7%, BAME individuals are but 8% of senior management within the full creative industry.
The lack of diversity and opportunity has been debated over the years with Sir Lenny Henry leading discussions surrounding this, whereby he has chastised Ofcom and the BBC for not doing enough to promote diversity not only on screens, but also behind the scenes and moreover for not being clear about who fits into the diversity category. As you can see there are many challenges BAME people face within the industry. For many they have either created their own platform to success, moved to America as there is slightly more opportunities for BAME people there; or for the majority they have put their ‘creative’ careers on the back burner as the majority of the decision makers at the top are white middle class men and their subsequent ‘decisions’ do not relate/ include those from other ethnic backgrounds who have unique creative abilities.
WOKE. was birthed by Nacheal Catnott and James Barton who met whilst both were studying at Goldsmith University in 2017 whilst Nacheal was making a documentary about the battle of Lewisham, the true story of when the black residents of Lewisham stood together and fought against racism in 1977. They had a vision to incorporate the story into the wider educational curriculum by creating workshops in universities and schools. However, after a series of engagement with Goldsmiths University and the local authority this idea proved to be unsuccessful; so they both transformed the direction by organising their first art exhibition during black history month whereby they celebrated the many talented BAME artists.
I initially attended a WOKE. art exhibition back in October 2018 at the Flying Dutchman, Peckham for their black history month gala where a number of BAME artists showcased a range of their art work from sculptures, oil paintings, mini movies, photographs and dancing. What really grabbed my attention was the name ‘WOKE.’ as that one word alone – it has so many definitions attached to it, but is the stark reality of today’s issues within our society. As Nacheal explained WOKE. is a sudden understanding of what is going on and relates to all backgrounds and issues such as LGBT, feminism, race, politics and age.
Fast forward five months later; WOKE. was further awakened for their latest venture – Beyond the Voyage which took place in collaboration with the Institution of Contemporary Arts (ICA) on 14 March 2019. The narrative for this theme stemmed from the Windrush generation and recent scandals regarding those who were directly affected by the hostile environment immigration policy. Nacheal and Jamie realised that not only did those of Caribbean descents have a story to tell, but there were other stories to be heard from other BAME communities from places such as Africa, Asia, India and the Middle East. Beyond the Voyage was created as a platform to celebrate, support and provide opportunities for creative individuals of colour to tell their stories and did they tell their story!
This showcase was totally different from the bog standard static hanging pieces on the wall and how it was delivered was totally unique to what I have experienced to date.
Each artist had their own stage presence and their performances varied as well as the story that they were sharing. Covering important topics such as women’s empowerment, womanhood, multi-culturism, African traditions, victims of war and black masculinity to name a few.
What I liked the most about how the exhibition was structured was that each artist automatically rolled on stage, straight after the other. Some done poetry and monologues such as Tanya Chitunhu who spoke about her motherland and her life whilst being raised in her village and having a sense of belonging; whilst others used their pieces of work alongside visuals such as Joke Valerie Amusan whose hessian’s pieces displayed strong worded messages in particular regarding black lives matter. We also experienced various dances such as MOTHER TONGUE where the performers danced to a combination of music such as afrobeats and grime, whilst in the background the visuals had dialogues regarding questions that are very relevant to me on a day to day basis. For instance, when I am being asked about where I come from, when being indirectly asked about my heritage and not where I live or was brought up. The show was mainly dominated by women; however the men who participated in the exhibition produced some excellent pieces of work which had strong messages of acceptance, sexuality, immigration and being heard, in particular Derrick Kakembo’s Jaga Jaga which had so much content in the form of rapping, poetry and videography about a boys black experience.
Each and every one of the participants had powerful content and it really done exactly what Nacheal and Jamie wanted, shared the artist’s story about who they are and where they come from. There were a diverse number of messages given, when speaking to a few people who attended, each of us had a different perception and interpretation of each of the messages, some people had a different spin and their explanations encouraged positive dialogue.
On reflection and through discussions with others the reoccurring trend/theme that really resonated with me as a black British woman was the phenomenal amount of talent that we have within the BAME community. Not only that, with the media constantly churning out bad press about our youths in particularly our black boys and men being in gangs and rebelling against life in general, what it taught me is that we are not celebrating those who are doing exceedingly well, those who are working hard towards their future, those who have a story, those whose voices are not being heard or being overlooked. These positive messages is something that is much needed more than ever before, as it allows them to express their thoughts as well as encourages unity (as the audience itself was very diverse), engagement and discussion.
So what is next for WOKE.? Nachael and Jamie are working towards world domination within the creative industry. They intend to continue to build a platform for people of colour and to collaborate with more organisations, in the hope of waking not only those within the industry, to the undetected creative gems within the BAME community. But also through the artist’s themselves show casing their work to highlight to those outside of the industry, the positive steps young BAME creative’s are taking.
For further information about WOKE. please go to https://WOKE.-uk.com or you can follow WOKE. on their Facebook, instagram and twitter social media pages @w.o.ke_uk. In addition if you would like further information regarding any other exhibitions held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) please go to ICA’s Facebook and instagram social media accounts @icalondon