There have been moments when I have been surprised by the lack of knowledge and insight that lies beneath the surface amongst some players on the UK Black Arts Scene. It is natural that everyone would want to see representations of his or her own specific subculture when a major arts organisation presents work that has an African or Caribbean dimension. But considering the fact that the various narratives that have led us to share things in common such as slavery and colonialism are in many ways different from each other, there are bound to be moments when the focus would shift from place to place.
When I was an emerging artist, the scene had a strong Caribbean focus. Most of the leading practitioners of that heritage in that era were able to take for granted that arts funding and public interest would be tilted in their favour. My awareness and understanding of a “Black” culture was different, due to my Nigerian upbringing. It felt uncomfortable at times to be overlooked or not taken into account, but I accepted my breaks and learnt a great deal from my peers of Caribbean heritage that I have absorbed into my artistic vocabulary.
Artists of Ghanaian heritage also had a time when their terms of reference seemed to be the cultural lingua franca amongst Black Londoners in the know, not forgetting the South Africans in the Apartheid era.
So why is it that there has been lingering passive aggressive resentment shown towards Nigerian derived artists and cultural discourse? Perhaps it is a mirror reflection of a more general malaise amongst people of African heritage.
No condition is permanent. The pendulum always swings, slows down and focuses on somewhere else after a while. Wouldn’t it be healthier if we all chose to learn from each other, aiming to enrich the scene as a whole?