On Monday 2 October, the University of Edinburgh’s BME Liberation group held a panel discussion on black art and liberation, as part of Black History Month.
The discussion was lead by Elizabeth Kwenortey, President of the African and Caribbean Society. It included three artists from the University of Edinburgh: Kome Eleyae, who mainly works with paint, combining his British and Nigerian identity; Wami Aluko, a Nigerian Conceptual Photographer and Joe With the Glasses, an African-American poet, musician and former theatre director.
The panel was able to offer perspectives from three different art forms, discussing the similarities, differences and challenges they faced in their careers as black artists.
At the beginning of the discussion, Kwenortey stated that the topics affecting black artists are serious. However, the discussion showed that the challenges, misconceptions, and barriers that black artists face do not undermine the success, fulfilment, and public appreciation they receive for their work and in their roles as creators.
The questions within the discussion ranged from the “black British experience” to the panellists’ personal heroes.
The audience was also able to learn about major inspirations for the three artists, as well as understand the importance of community building through artwork, whether at the University of Edinburgh or beyond.
Eleyae and Aluko discussed the importance of identity pride within their pieces. Both have a Nigerian heritage, and incorporate this into their artwork.
Eleyae commented on how he enjoys “using bright colours, and Nigerian prints” in the background of his portraits to pay tribute to the vibrant culture of the nation.
Aluko mentioned how she feels her artwork “allows for Nigeria to be seen more positively” in comparison to the traditional mainstream narrative.
She also discussed the importance of diversity within her photography, specifically diversity in the black community.
She said, “the black race is so diverse, and I try my best to represent that. All my models have different personalities, different skin tones, different hair. Though we are all of colour, we are still individuals, something I hope to show in my work.”
The panel also discussed how the fight for equality also includes the abolishment of stereotypes.
As black artists, they agreed that through their own creative projects, they are able to push forward against the presumptions people may hold in their minds on what it means to be black, and rather see them for their work and purely as artists.
Joe With the Glasses was first introduced to slam-poetry through his older sister, going to his first performance when he was just ten years old.
He said that as an poet with a platform he knows he is “occupying a space as a black artist.” With this space, he said, he is able to “create a poem on stage, and leave it there in the end with the audience.”
“I understand now that the people you fight for aren’t perfect.”
He said, “They may never be. Most of middle-class America is racist, but that doesn’t mean you give up on them.
“You keep pushing your voice till it is louder than whatever negativity that exists, past the flaws.
“That’s what I try to do as a poet, though it’s difficult when so much of this affects me directly, I try to keep going.”
Image: Hajira Kamran / Photographer