Contemporary Art: Limited Access for Diversity

Contemporary art is not immune to the lack of obvious diversity on the mainstream cultural scene in Quebec. While some people are committed to giving a new lease of life to the expression of the modern arts, many actors in the field still note a reluctance to this cultural diversity.

These days, Montreal, Intercultural Arts (MAI) hosts four international interdisciplinary artists as part of black.art.empowerment, a series dedicated to the arts of black communities.

This “laboratory” opens a parallel space for discussion, in the form of panels, on culture, civil rights and social engagement.

“We say that we have a genuine contemporary word, and we invite the public to come and meet these different aspects of culture,” says Rhodnie Désir, Chair of the MIA Board of Directors, whose mission is to promote inclusion and communion of cultures.

Because the contemporary art scene is tight and space is lacking for what does not fit into a “false and fictional” description of contemporary art, where the plurality of identities has no place, she believes.

Yet in reality, “contemporary art does not mean anything to a person of color for a white person,” says M me Desire.

Open to dissimilarity

Malik Nashad Sharpe (aka Marikiscrycrycry) is one of the four artists on black, art empowerment, with $ elfie $, a work dealing in images, songs and dance of the intersectionality of black and queer cultures. The American artist feels that “in certain spaces of diffusion, if a person of color is on display, one has the impression that it is a figurative”, which is “not in its place”.

“The joke that often comes up is that in general, there is never more than one of us on a program. ”

– The artist Malik Nashad Sharpe, aka Marikiscrycrycry

Although still rather rare, initiatives for inclusion are not non-existent. On the contrary, they are becoming more numerous, according to Louise Déry, director of the UQAM gallery for twenty years.

“I think we’re making gains in terms of recognition,” she says. There are many organizations that recognize that there is an effort to be made and that it is not binding to organize programming that reflects representativeness. ”

At the University du Quebec a Montreal gallery (UQAM), next month will be the exhibition Over My Black Body, a collective exhibition on the codification of the black body in contemporary societies. Five artists take part in this project designed by curators Eunice Belidor and Anaïs Castro.

UQAM “always wants to work with diversity, in a mode of dialogue,” explains Louise Dery. She believes that university galleries, museums and other state-funded institutions have a “responsibility” to put forward the multiplicity of artistic identities.

Still in this perspective, earlier this year, UQAM presented works centered around Aboriginal communities. First, a first exhibition dedicated to the Ojibway artist Maria Hupfield, then, until recently, the exhibition Terriens (Earthlings), thought by Shary Boyle and which brings together six Aboriginal artists.

For Louise Dery, “the public can not become familiar with the cultural concerns of an artist of diversity if he never sees them”. And on the institutional side, “it’s like the chicken or the egg: you do not see these artistic practices, so you do not show them your turn. ”

Redefining identity

“Institutions are often caught between their desire to attract the public, with known names, and that of proposing lesser-known things that, they, change the public,” says Guillaume Sirois, assistant professor in the department of sociology of University de Montreal and specialist in artistic and cultural circles.

He sees “some breakthroughs” in the milieu, for example the opening to diversity at the Venice Biennale, subject of his academic thesis. Many questions remain, however. “One of the problems is that there is a silo, not to say a ghetto, where non-white, non-majority artists are represented,” he says. It is necessary to bring these arts to more prominent places. ”

In any case, the efforts of institutions, artisans and artists, must be in harmony with efforts of a more political nature to “claim a place for artists of diversity,” believes Mr. Sirois. Many of these political efforts come from Diversity artistique Montreal.

In order to generate more heterogeneity in contemporary art, we must get rid of a “perception of the other, of the elsewhere, which is folkloric”.

– Jerome Pruneau, Executive Director of Diversity artistique Montreal

For him, diversity must be shown because it “is part of the Quebec of today and is one of the pieces of its identity”, but also because it has “been hidden, erased, within a vision of us who is white and francophone.

The “box” of diversity

In general, “there are many racialized artists who make contemporary art, but most are not visible,” says Jerome Pruneau. And otherwise, we tend to ethnicize their art. ”

“When so-called” diversity artists “are shown, they are asked to talk about their difference, why they are different. They will not be asked to talk about broad topics, “says Eunice Belidor, co-curator of the exhibition Over My Black Body. She says she works regularly with artists from a variety of backgrounds who “do not really talk about their identity”.

“The fear of many institutions is that the public will not understand if it is not put in a box, without a marker [precise],” says artist Malik Nashad Sharpe, who sees on the contrary, in his job, the work of black artists, for example, is always received “with great respect and understanding”.

“Finally, what I would like to see in the world of contemporary art is more space given to people of color, who could grow as well,” she says. If we do not engage with these artists in this way, we limit what they can accomplish. In fact, this is already happening. ”

The exhibition Over My Black Body will be presented at the UQAM gallery from May 17 to June 22.

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