Arts and Identity
Should ‘the arts’ be used as a way of constructing - or reconstructing - a sense of who we are as individuals, as society, or as a nation? To what extent does this sort of thinking undermine any notion of universalism in the arts, or does the shift mean we must reconstitute an idea of what universalism means?
The arts have long been used as a way of exploring self-understanding, but as the idea of making clear critical judgments about artworks comes under fire, does the current focus on respecting cultural differences reflect a deeper lack of critical authority? And to what extent does it ‘dumb down’ people’s ability to appreciate and enjoy culture more generally?
The counterculture never did have any time for aspiration. Jazz, for some, may have been a form of cultural slumming, but for many blacks, working at monotonous, low-paid jobs and paying high rents to live in overcrowded apartment buildings, the music and its performers offered a glimpse of a better life that was demonstrably within the grasp of black Americans. Music was one arena in which blacks could be seen to excel.
Due to its location within a notable area of Jewish immigration the library was once known as the ‘University of the Ghetto’. With a newer immigrant community today facing its own challenges - arguably both from within and without its ranks - the symbolism of a combined library and Gallery would be highly potent.
A traditionalist, nationalist perspective argues that modern art has steadily been eroding traditional British values, whilst today’s cultural institutions are a love-in for the liberal elite.
Inua Ellams recounts his childhood and adolescence, all the while exuberantly trying to establish a significant space for himself both in the line of people who came before him, and in the cities in which he grows up, moving from Nigeria to the United Kingdom.
Karl and Franz are at once two brothers, embodiments of East and West Germany, and at times almost pure ciphers for Capitalist and Socialist ideology. What is exciting is that these positions are not fixed. There is a sense that both figures on stage continually exist on all three levels, forcing the audience to keep re-reading their relationship with what is being said and done.
Sukumaran’s mechanical pas de deux is a mesmerising work that invites a lot of thought and reminds us of so many open-ended questions that have been left in the wake of Modernism’s failure.
The fact that we switch so easily between liking and disliking the character is a lesson in the arbitrariness of sympathy, but also, and perhaps most importantly, in how uninformed our interpretations of reality must be when we are unable to see and hear things for ourselves, without linguistic and cultural mediations.
Obscenity fits the kind of heightened, violent and heated atmosphere of the text much better than sexiness would have. This makes it all the more regrettable that in spite of all the boldness and explicitness of the rest of the evening, either the writer or the director chose to censor the only sexual act that would have been worth seeing staged
Salaita gives an analysis in terms of institutionalised racism, showing how it fosters domestic legitimacy for aggressive interference in the Middle East whilst underpinning the stranglehold of ‘white liberals’ on what it means to be progressive, mainstream and American. Underneath, this is a humanist argument with Enlightenment roots, though one with an interesting twist.
Beckett’s characters speak Seffricanese, the language of Josi or Joburg as the locals call their city – an exuberant mix of English peppered with popular phrases and slang words from Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa and Sotho.
Amar Kanwar’s video installation ‘The Lightning Testimonies’ inhabits its own room, and thus somewhat shifts the viewer away from the hectoring curatorial excess of the exhibition as a whole.
Modern Britons have, for the most part, done a good job of cutting family ties. Sabrina is a prime example of a modern, single woman for whom her close friends are her family. What Shades offers is a rare insight into the lives of those living in Britain for whom family is more important than love.