I recently contributed to a $3 Art Show that was put on by myself and a group of local artists. While I was in the presence of friends and laughter something was off. When I attended the show the entire room was filled with White people. The only people of color were myself, one other artist, and two people that had been invited. I watched as my White friends laughed and drank, they felt so at peace in that space. But I, couldn’t help but to feel oddly out of place. It’s not an unfamiliar setting or emotion to me. Often, I'm surrounded by mostly White people. But in a space where I'm expressing my personal thoughts and values -- how odd of a situation is that? To share the space with people that don't necessarily think like me, or even of me. When they post their art on the wall all they have to consider is whether it’s good or bad. For some gender may play a role, but what about race? They never have to concern themselves with whether their art wasn’t accepted because they’re Black or Brown. When submitting to a show they don’t have to wonder if their name contains too many apostrophes or hyphens for the judge. And what about when I want to make political art? When I want to discuss in my work how I’m still hurt by the death of Sandra Bland. What about when I want to confront the privilege they so effortlessly partake in daily. I look at my wall of photography and all I see is White models. This isn’t intentional, but these are the people that are on the scene. The people that are promoted and explored. But where’s our representation? Even in my own art I’m not representing myself or my people. The representation of Black artists is certainly available in the arts when it comes to music, or dance. But what about Black painters, sculptors, photographers, or print makers? Where is the representation to tell young Black and Brown children that this is an option for them. And what about when Black and Brown people do emerge in the arts? Where's their community when they're surround by "deep" White hipsters quoting Basquiat and swearing by Picasso's appropriated images?
1. It allows for open and honest conversion about race without navigating Whiteness.
When spaces that are for POC only there is an opportunity for open and honest discussion. Those involved do not have to consider whether they'll face backlash or anger from their peers. Art can be political, it can be revolutionary, and all of that is personal. But how can one speak on or think critically when they're under the eye of those that perpetuate the system that hinders them? We're constantly forced to comfort and acknowledge the Whiteness of our peers. However, a POC only space would allow for genuine collaboration and exploration of the topics.
2. The space would alleviate the strain of carrying the issues surrounding racial tension and inequality.
Often, when a POC is a singular entity in a group the burden of racial discussion falls on them. In my own personal experiences I have been forced to "be the one." I'm constantly having to point out injustice, prejudice, or blatant racism because there is no one else in my corner. There is no one else present that is phased by the repeated occurrences of mistreatment of myself or my people. When navigating a space that is held by mostly White people I am often forced to be the spokesperson of my entire race. In a group that is for Black and Brown people this weight would be alleviated.
3. Art can be for us, by us.
There are countless works of art that feature Black and Brown people and our culture. However, many of them are created by White individuals. In the cases where a POC is the creator of the art it is still the White person that comes out reaping the benefits. In a space where we are control we can give credit where it is truly due. Also, representation matters. Art in general is extremely White washed, and this gives us an opportunity to see ourselves not only in the art but the community.
4. We have the ability to create a community from within.
We are our community. When we create an artistic community from within we are opening up the ideas of what Blackness is, or what is means to be Puerto Rican, Asian, Indian, etc. We are able to illustrate or narrate our experiences and highlight our community and values.
5. There is no derailment of lived experiences.
In the art community I have discussed mistreatment from other artists or groups. Even my closest "friends" derail my experiences by deeming them "not a race thing". However, when in the community of others like myself the vocalization of these experiences would be taken seriously. They would be acknowledged, often because they are not a singular experience.
6. It allows representation for young Black and Brown children.
While I was growing up I saw little to no representation of Black people in the arts. I was convinced that this path was reserved for White people. That I could never be successful in a field such as this. However, when there is representation notions like these begin to be erased. POC are not one dimensional. We are highly capable of functioning in the arts, however the lack of representation deters many.
There is a necessity for spaces where we have control over something so personal and powerful like our art. POC only spaces doesn't have to function solely to our relationship to White people, but it can. It can also explore our relationship to one another, while simultaneously examining the world around us with a critical eye.