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Are the fine arts a black-free zone?

AIMLESSLY WONDERING around southeast London one afternoon, I idly found myself at the Tate Modern.

With the admission free, I decided to do something a bit cultured and decided to treat myself to some contemporary art.

Whilst making my way through the gallery, I became increasingly aware of two features that a huge majority of its visitors had in common - they were white and they were middle class.

Making my way through the countless rooms, I stumbled upon a rare sight - a guy who actually shared my skin tone.

He definitely noticed me, just like I noticed him.

We both looked at each other as if we’d turned up to an event wearing identical outfits. Seemingly shocked by the mere fact that another black person could appreciate the contents of this building.

This got me thinking about black people’s contribution to the fine arts.

Why is it that when it comes to the division of arts that includes urban music and street dance, you will find us there in abundance? But when it comes to the fine arts, black interest is scarce?

I remember inviting an old friend of mine, who is of Jamaican descent, to come with me to the National Portrait Gallery.

Her reply was, “I’m not pretentious and I’m not white so why would I want to do that?”

This comment sounded a bit crass at first, but once it had time to marinate, I found it contained some credibility.

There is no doubt that art can be pretentious. The industry is arguably full of quite arrogant and eccentric intellectuals who can appear contrived.

Some give off the impression that because they can successfully express themselves for a living, that makes them ‘something.’

Black people are no less cultured or intelligent than their white counterparts, I just think it’s much more to do with interests - and more importantly - upbringing.

Discipline levels in black and white families differ.

There are many black children who are beaten and would never dare to answer their parents back if they wanted to live to see tomorrow. Whereas there are some white children are encouraged to speak their minds, which ultimately builds critical thinking.

To a degree, I would say that white children possess more freedom growing up then than black children. This sense of freedom is essential to understanding what art is all about in the first place.

Back at the Tate Modern, I overheard a white middle class mother and her little girl, who couldn’t have been more than five, looking at an abstract piece by Fernand Léger.

“Mummy, I don’t like it. It’s weird,” The little girl said.

“Wonderfully weird darling, wonderfully weird.” The mother corrected.

Part of me was disgusted by the mother’s comment- a vile example of middle-class pretension. Another part of me felt happy that she was encouraging her daughter to acquire an artistic vision.

I began to grow tired of the Tate and decided to leave, but the sight of one piece stopped me in my tracks.

Nigerian British artist Chris Ofili’s No Woman No Cry, which is a tribute to the murdered London teenager, Stephen Lawrence, was arguably the most beautiful painting on display.

It was the only painting that consistently had a crowd around it and possessed something about it that the other surrounding paintings did not.

A black artist breaking through to a white majority audience is something to celebrate.

Of course black people are creative, talented, and very capable. There is definitely space for more of this black talent within the fine arts.

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