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Blog - Colin Hambrook

Awkward Bastards challenging the absence of diversity from the cultural landscape

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DASH’s Awkwards Bastards symposium returns for another year, in collaboration with Live Art Development Agency (LADA) and mac Birmingham, taking place at the mac on 22-23 March. I caught the morning session of the first day via livestream.

Picture of Tanya Raabe-Webber painting whilst asking Abid Hussain his opinion on the role of the arts council's Creative Case for Diversity

Tanya Raabe-Webber making a live portrait of Arts Council Officer Abid Hussain, whilst asking his opinion on the role of the Arts Council’s Creative Case for Diversity

With introductions from Caro Parker and Mike Layward, DASH began their day with a warm up from Tanya Raabe-Webber, the artist behind the hugely successful Portraits Untold which toured the country with live conversation/portraits with established figures within the arts from diverse backgrounds.

I was entranced by this project and greatly pleased when DAO bloggers Jane McCormick and Deborah Caulfield both posted blogs showcasing their talent through engaging with Portraits Untold.

At the conference this morning Arts Council Diversity Officer Abid Hussain was put on the couch to have a conversation midst portrait. In such a position he could only really be complementary about Tanya’s work, but I happen to agree that Portraits Untold did a good job of telling stories of people from different backgrounds.

Abid spoke about the importance of arts and culture to unite us – especially at a time when a small minority are dedicated to unsettling society by causing atrocity. Art can cross boundaries and help to change people’s minds.

Representation is key – do we see ourselves and our stories reflected in culture – in the public art galleries across the UK? Abid emphasised the point that responsibility for engaging with as wide a cross-section of the population should be considered when planning the programming, curating and commissioning of work.

People othered by race, gender, sexuality and disability have been historically discriminated against by the gatekeepers to culture. Director of the Tate Modern Frances Morris spoke on film about the legacy of the 19th-century arts institutions being one of white, male elitism and how the legacy of language that has grown up around art is self-serving – exclusive and incomprehensible.

Frances said that “when we say art is for everybody that means the language has to be accessible. We need to bring down the walls of exclusivity. The difficult thing is to convey that message clearly and in a way that invites everybody. Everywhere we see huge populations who feel disaffected by the society they live in – and the importance of creating cultural spaces where people can meet and have differences can’t be underestimated.”

Frances went on to speak about the ambitions of Tate Exchange, which recently engaged with Shape to produce an exhibition and workshops highlighting the role of audio-description in opening the visual arts up to people with visual impairments: “Tate Exchange is fast becoming a  space to reflect and reconfigure ideas, a space with the potential for an incredible alchemy to enable people to change their minds. That’s what’s been happening at Tate Exchange and its been attracting mounting interest from small organisations in becoming part of this network.”

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