This is a summary of a conversation I had with Raimi Gbadamosi, a Wits professor and contemporary British conceptual artist and writer whose work address themes of identity and art theory.
The conversation was inspired by my quest to find a South African visual artist of Chinese origin. Having gone to galleries and interviewed a number of gallery owners, art critics and other people in the industry, with still no leads, I interviewed Prof Gbadamosi and this is what he had to say:
Immigrant communities around the world have different sets of dynamics to deal with in their new homeland. They are aware their existence is constantly under question. As a result the community finds ways of satisfying their immediate needs such as getting a roof over their head, feeding themselves and their family and educating their children so they will survive within that community.
On arriving here, I saw the same patterns as I did in Britain and in fact here it is in fact more deadly. Now if you are in a community within a larger set of people and you see people being burnt alive, even though you are not the immediate target of that attack, you are aware that you are one step away from it happening to you.
The fear and awareness, whether conscious and unconscious leads to a level of pragmatism within the community that should a crisis occur, we will be safe. A certain way of being safe is having money because having status protects you from the ravages of xenophobia and racism. I am not surprised at all that art as a profession is discouraged within the Chinese South African community.The immediate needs of that community will come before what is often seen as frivolity.
Galleries and their role in promoting art
Galleries are still fixated on Eurocentric ideas of what is considered visual art. They represent a small number of artists within the artistic community and at the moment it is clear certain types of artists aren’t represented.
If I were an artist of Chinese origin and I see another artist of Chinese origin being exhibited, it would make me aware there are possibilities still but if I go from gallery to gallery from exhibition to exhibition and at no point do I see myself, do I recognise myself, do I hear myself being spoken about, I would simply think there is no future.
Some times we need to see ourselves in order to recognise ourselves.