In The Thick Of It

BALTIC commission process journal

“The most effective way to do it is to do it.”

Toni Cade Bambara

I set myself the task of touching the Hinterlands commission every day for the next 100 days from the beginning of July. And on the whole, I have succeeded so far in this task. Day 23 of July and I’ll be honest, this commission is filling my waking and sleeping hours, as I agonise over how to bring my ideas and concepts to fruition. How to communicate what I think, or feel or see to others. How to make that connection of understanding, empathy and solidarity when exploring the Black woman’s body with/in nature.

This is not an easy task. And I think I’ve made the task more difficult for myself by trying to incorporate multiple and diverse art form into the brief. It’s that same old story, that fear of never getting another chance like this so I have to say everything I’ve ever wanted to say on the subject all at once to make sure I get my message across. That I use this opportunity to it’s limits as this might be my only shot, my only slot, my only opportunity to speak and shine.

Of course this is not based on fantasy. This is based on fact. Did you know that just 2,000 artworks in the UK’s permanent art collections are by Black artists – most of which aren’t on display?

And even though over the last couple of years, there has been more visibility and opportunities for Black and People of Colour artists to be part of the British art scene/establishment, for example with Sonia Boyce winning the top prize, the Golden Lion as she became the first Black female artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale. This is still a rarity and not the norm.

“It seems almost ridiculous that it takes into the 21st century for a Black British female artist to be invited to do Venice,”

Sonia Boyce

We are still operating in a highly racist, discriminatory system. FACT. I can continue to keep chipping away at this. And I will. But …

For here and now, I think it comes down to confidence and belief in what I’m doing. To silence the outside noise. Ignore the internal critic and just do it. Do the things I want to do and move on.

At the end of these 100 days, I’ll have a collection of items, products, creations that I will then pull together into a whole. Into saying something about something.

We will have to wait and see. But I’m enjoying the process.

So already I feel as it I’m winning.

Fear to Fury

James Baldwin when interviewed after the SNCC Freedom Day demonstration in Selma, Alabama, October 1963 described what he saw there.

When was asked if he was afraid in the moment when the police were moving in on the African Americans waiting patiently to vote with guns and clubs and cattle prodders, Baldwin replied,

“ The thing is you get – you’re so scared – I was scared in the morning. Before it all began. And I was scared the first time I walked around there. But, later on, I wasn’t scared at all … Your fear is swallowed up by, you know … fury. What you really want to do is kill all those people.”*

* Quoted in Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America And It’s Urgent Lessons For Our Own, by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.

“The helmets were, you know, like a garden. So many colours.” James Baldwin *