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How many black female artists do you know? Or A manifest for change

18 Feb 2018

 

After 18 years in Norway and almost 15 as a hopeful worker in the Norwegian performing arts field, both as a performer, producer, project leader, artistic project developer, dramaturge, co-director and writer, I often times catch myself asking: Who is writing about black female artists in Norway? Who is researching their expressions? Who is placing their work into an artistic context? Who is diffusing its theoretical aspects?

Several Google searches with different key words show a rather distressing reality:

 

We are invisible.

 

Only a few within the arts and critic field talk about us or our work consistently from a scientific or serious journalistic perspective. We are not seen as creative subjects. The presence of black women in magazine or newspapers articles about art is a rather isolated event, an exception that confirms the rule. When some of us feature in media channels, it is often times within a very specific frame, limited by the media itself or the art institution’s premises, seldom our own. Both art-specialized publications and culture editors of the most relevant mainstream newspapers in Norway mostly ignore the existence of Norwegian or Norway-based black female artists. Why? My theory is that we are facing a universal narrative about what art can be and who can be seen as an artist.

 

This is a sad confirmation of a status quo that needs to change. Now. 

 

Because we exist. We are here. Despite the complete ignorance of the majoritarian society about who we are, how we live, what we dream about.

 

During my research I could not find any official studies from Statistics Norway (SSB) crossing aspects of gender and the different ethnicities among the population. The study "Employment among immigrants, register based" shows that in 2016 there were 13 603 employed African women in Norway. Still, no specific data targeting knowledge about black women from diaspora was found. That means: Norway doesn't see itself as part of the African diaspora, as a consequence we don’t know exactly how many women of African or Afrodiaspora descent live in the country. In the article ”Diskriminering mot afrikanske kvinner” (“Discrimination against African women”), from 2006, the Gender Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombud (LDO) states that there were 7,400 women with African background in Oslo at that time. Unfortunately, the article lacks a reference to its source, so I and those who, like me, are curious about this particular information, remain confused in our search, with inaccurate 12 year old data that says little about the individuals in the group the term is supposed to cover.

 

In face of such indifference from both the majoritarian society and the arts field, it is not surprising that some people I dialogue with ask me if there are so few black female artists or there are many that are simply not seen.I am positively sure that the latter is the case.

 

Because I can mention quite a few.

 

Noora Noor, Queendom (Asta Busyngje Lydersen og Monica Ifejilika), Haddy Njie, Isabel Sterling, Stella Mwangi, Hannah Wozene Kvam, Terese Mungai, Malika Makouf Rasmussen, Maria Lotus Karlsen, Nosizwe, Mariama Ndure, Rohey Taalah, Maria Liholt, Pearl Tawiah, Mariama Slåttøy, Marea Knockout Noire, Luanda Carneiro Jacoel, Amie Mbye, Guro Sibeko, Jeaninne Lukusa, Evelyn Rasmussen Osazuwa, Amina Sewali, Sara Ramin Osmundsen, Camara Joof, Marianne Hetland, Busi Ncube, Mimmi Tamba, Iselin Shumba, Selome Emnetu, Anawana Haloba, Camille Norment, Agate Øksendal Kaupang.

 

These names emerged spontaneously in my memory. The list has no ambition to be exhaustive, so I may have forgotten someone, and there are probably talented artists I haven’t heard of.

 

It is not easy to talk about this. In many cases, we lack a language for the difficult conversations and fail to put important things into words. It is painful to talk about exclusion, marginalization, lack of representativity. It's hurtful to be seen as the angry black woman. It is easier to keep silent and wait for an opportunity to show our work.

 

That's how I felt until the day I realized that opportunities to be seen and heard may occur for some of us, but the structure will not change unless we break the established pattern. We must be lifted and we must lift each other. Consistently, non stop. Yes, systematically.

 

Golden Mirrors: Black Women in the Arts wishes to open a channel for speech and discourses about black women and their aesthetics, a room, a network by and for black female artists of all genres.

 

I want to be a mediator and creator of a new space in Norway, a place where we, female artists with African background can see and feel that we are many, that we are individuals, that we think, write, create thought provoking works of art and express ourselves in widely different ways.

 

I want to open a room for the longing to belong, for the sorrow and the pleasure of being who we are, to break the silence - invisibility’s best friend.

 

I want to build bridges, study, explore forms of language that can be used to understand and get to know more African and Afrodiasporian female artists and expressions from around the world, while at the same time giving visibility to those living and working in Norway, or who have a connection to the country.

 

I want to reverberate black female thinkers who conceptualize and highlight life experiences from a black, female perspective, and show new directions, that will guide us in the way we see our past and present, also in the field of aesthetics and art.

 

Because, as the American feminist Audre Lorde once wrote,

 

Poetry is not a luxury.[1]

 

 

[1] Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, Crossing Press: Berkeley, 2007 (1984), 36.

 

 

 

 

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