Anti-elitist art critics Zarina Muhammad and Gabrielle de la Puente answer your questions about the art world in their new Dazed column
Anon: So, my question/concern is: how would someone that is Asian, coming from a New Zealand background, be able to get their foot into the arts industry?
I have been working in the arts world in NZ for years now managing a dealer gallery, but have recently moved to the UK and am finding it awfully difficult to get into anything art related. Are there some tips that you could recommend? Obviously I think having an Asian background with an Asian face doesn’t help really... but I want to know your thoughts on this as I feel the diversity in UK is much different than in New Zealand.
Should I read more art books? Go to openings? Talk with people so I can get to know them and work my way up by that? All of the above?
The White Pube: I know this is a really stupid piece of advice to start with but I’ve been watching a lot of optimistic happy-happy tv and film so indulge me and then I’ll actually b practical for you i promise. Because in recently coming over from New Zealand, u kind of have some stranger, fresh slate privilege from which to pretend to us naive british ppl that you are actually a bit of a Big Deal. sort of works cause the idea we have of New Zealand in our UK cultural imaginary is of a place where interesting rich outdoorsy people live, and I’m just letting u kno so you can take full advantage of that. Imagine it: stamping into gallery private views sayin yes it is me I HAV ARRIVED FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD, dressed memorably, telling good funny stories to strangers. the BELL OF THE BALL. belle of the ball? You could be like, O do you not know who i am? do u not know about this big Project I was working on, bless !; ; charming ur way to the people and positions you want ~*.
but lol back to the real world: things are actually bad and that film sequence I just imagined for you might not work out because the UK’s art scenes are definitively racist in a way that’s relatively mild in London, hot-hot in the rest of the cities, and BOILING Burning mY TONGUE in our brexit-tory towns and villages. We don’t know where exactly you are so our advice will touch broadly on navigating All These Racist Places and hopefully u can thwart the white people who hold anyone different to em at arm’s length, the bastards !
As u have correctly identified, getting into the arts is largely a matter of being social. This isn’t the way we want it to be, where success hinges on having endless bubbly-person social energy, it’s just tru tho: the more people you know and the more people know YOU, the more likely ur name is to come up in conversation when those in power are dishing out opportunities, awards, handouts and real jobs. Your question is something everyone is coming up against but one you’ll double-struggle with if you have a marginalised identity and hav 2 overcome isms on top of that. you sound willing and able to play the game so - 💡
for starters, i reckon you need a decent, clear and active social media presence. Make your handle your own name and post good / straight / bright images of the stuff u make / what ur interested in / and just 20% personal posts imo. This is for quick referral and tbh, it’ll keep you on people’s minds. Business cards seem old fashioned but they work sooooo get on that vistaprint train. Once that’s set up u gotta leave the house. You know when you’re waiting to get served at a bar and ur looking for that quick gap at the front where you can step forward and b like ok now it is my turn? You need the art world equivalent and for that I recommend finding an Art Social or equivalent: can be called things like Maker Meet-ups or use a subject as an excuse to bring people together life-drawing classes, Drink and Draw, crits, theatre outings, art clubs or reading groups. Use these to slip into the network of the arts thru real social moments where you can speak one-on-one with people who are likely in the same position as u are - on the outside of the thing, possibly working solo but wanting connections, new ideas, people to bounce off of, a way in. These nice weekday evenings or sunday afternoon settings are much more productive and genuine than fronting some shifty image at le private view ~ so ignore the entire first paragraph i wrote u actually heh. that will just attract the social climbers who are in it for clout and not real fulfilment or commitment. and in 2019 we’re all getting more stable, its in the cards.
Depending on who’s running those groups ^ u might not yet have found identity-specific spaces where u can enter with less fear 🌊. Have a look at the public programming on gallery and project websites and maybe gravitate to ones led by people of colour for obv reasons: Showroom, Iniva or OOMK in London, New Art Exchange in Nottingham, Transmission in Glasgow, Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art in Manchester. or there’s external things like the work Sorry You Feel Uncomfortable are doing, BBZ London, not.nowhere and ROOT-ed zine too. These are all online n offline, doin bits,, and If you’re going to attend events anywhere, might as well go for these.
I hope this helps put u in touch with the right people. deffo get going with a good twitter account because it will send out the bat signal and start to manifest what you want. best of luck dear friend
Have a question you want answered in one of the upcoming columns? Email The White Pube: email@example.com