Art

My Vision Of Britain

Britain. Is it me or does anyone else feel a dispirited bitter lull after the referendum? I travelled on the tube yesterday on a wet day, a low hum of Brexit-talk, newspapers with the word broad across it, when a business woman, olive skinned, dark haired, a singing lilt to her accent and expression gesturing from her hands, explained, “ yesterday I was on my way phone, walking down my the road i’ve lived on for the past 15 years.I was startled when i stumbled on a small dog. As i walked past the owner, who was strolling 5meters behind the pup, he hissed “You should look where your going, thank God were leaving the EU, now we can get rid of your lot’… Before the voting commenced the electricity that lit up our grey island was thrilling, the country seemed to spark in waves of debate from the friction of whether we should stay or leave the EU. Now with those who campaigned for us to leave the EU expiring, a plight in our currency and the bloom of youth wilting in disappointment. What now? Immigration was one of the leading factors campaigners used to push for the exit, leaving a bitter residue in the mouths of those who don’t seemingly ‘look British’ but are… Generations of white, black, brown and asian British citizens, whose forebears are or were at one point immigrants, feeling deflated. Estranging the thousands of foreign creatives, nurses, doctors, teachers, builders, TFL and London underground employees, people who serve to build our economy, discredited… What makes Britain Britain? What makes a person British?

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Vogue 100: A Century of style ,The National Portrait Gallery, London. A showcase of the remarkable range of photography that has been commissioned by British Vogue since it was founded in 1916, with over 280 prints and international collections being shown together to tell the story of the most influential fashion magazines in the world.

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Grand portraits of Alexander Mcqueen spread wide and high, long-limbed alien-models draped in the finest apparel, with exclusive slides and polaroids from the most iconic shoots. A catalogue of the history of British fashion and its influences over the past one hundred years unfurled throughout the exhibit. A celebration of Britain. While i can enjoy interesting compositions by famous photographers, incredible detail to the garments, make up by the creatives and angular-sculpturesque bodies of the supermodels, there was a huge disconnect for me. I really wanted to enjoy the art and being British, only i didn’t see the Britain that i see everyday, i didn’t see the community that i live in there, i didn’t see myself there… “how can you be an artist and not reflect the times?” – Nina Simone. How can you have a magazine that reflects what is British and have Naomi campbell represent 100 years of Black, Asian, Indian, mixed race and hispanic British people, people who have and are helping build Britain into the economy it is today. There’s diversity in culture here. The real confusion that I’m dealing with is:
a) I live in Britain and contribute to Britain, but am not being represented
b) I feel British, but society and media tells me that I’m don’t fit that
c) I know there’s a history for how my forebears and i slot in, but have never been educated on the topic.

Rattling down the sooty tunnels in our tin can chains, weary from work and heavy from the heat, I selected one of the many evening standard newspapers fountained out from the backs of the other commuters and skipped passed the drivel to the arts page: Black Chronicles showcases over forty photographs that present a unique snapshot of black/asian lives and experiences in the nineteenth and early twentieth-century Britain. These portraits of people with African and Asian heritage bear witness to Britain’s imperial history of the empire and expansion. They highlight an important and complex black presence in Britain before 1948, and a watershed moment when the Empire Windrush brought the first large group of Caribbean immigrants to Britain.The exhibition as modest and as meek as the article, danced faces of not a nation in captivity, but of black and asian victorian aristocrats, cocoa plantation owners, doctors, creatives and sportsman… I felt a huge sense of presence and a belonging, witnessing this exhibition. An empowerment. I do think its important to be educated on the civil rights movement and slavery, but its equally important to know that it is not where the history begins and ends:

 

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The point I’m trying to make is and what troubles me a great deal, is that the true history of the Commonwealth and the British empire is being eliminated, black and asian British stories are being covered up everywhere and are being painted as people who are sucking up the countries nutrients and leaving the rest dry. The sad thing is people actually believe it. Young Black/Indian/Asians are being educated on the plights of their history instead of the success of their forebears.

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Selected from 2,557 entries by artists from 80 countries around the world, the BP Portrait Award 2016 represents the very best in contemporary portrait painting.
From parents to poseurs, figurative nudes to famous faces and expressive sketches to piercing photo-realism, the variety and vitality in the exhibition continues to make it an unmissable highlight of the annual art calendar.Now in its thirty-seventh year at the National Portrait Gallery, and twenty-seventh year of sponsorship by BP, the first prize of £30,000 makes the Award the most prestigious international portrait painting competition of its kind and has launched the careers of many renowned artists. The Labyrinth of art held treasures of culture and fine artistry. Based only on the flair and talent of artistic expression, the trivia of where you’re from had no play in where the work hung in the gallery, each of them displaying their experience, opinion and the world through the artists eyes. Surely this is the essence of Britain, no? A fusion of cultures whirl winding, bringing the assets of the world to a hub where we can build our country and keep its vitality, offering opportunities to people seeking refuge so they can be grow contribute and be nurtured.This is my experience. This is the Britain that i know.

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My Grandparents, from the Caribbean, were invited to come to England with the promise of work, in the efforts to rebuild Britain after WW2. As children they were effected by British laws, rationing and knew many Caribbean men/women who fought alongside Britain in the World Wars. This is the story for many Indian, Asian and African families, But textbook history tells us that this story looks a lot more anglo. Brexit felt like an “inserts middle-finger” to my grandparents sacrifices. Why don’t they teach the history which is relevant to so many of us, so we can feel included? There is much to be proud of for being British, perhaps we need to educate ourselves on our ancestry, so we can offer the best of ourselves, thus creating an understanding of how we have and can contribute in our country without segregation? To say we’re here and we have been here.This is my vision of what it means to be British.

 

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1 reply »

  1. Nice post Daniel. Raisee some solid points. I too was shocked to hear the rise in hate crimes which shows such views were festering all along, the brexit just brought it up. I think part of British is to be tolerant and respectful of people views regardless of their background. I thought this was one of the good qualities I could say about GB especially compared to its sister, racist America. Obviously not…

    Liked by 1 person

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