Being an Artist Today; Gender, Mobility & Friendship
On 20-23 April I attended the IETM Plenary Meeting in Bucharest, Romania, a network of over 500 performing arts organisations and individual members working in the contemporary performing arts worldwide. The international network for contemporary performing arts hosts a meeting in a different city in Europe twice a year, advocating for the value of performing arts, commissioning publications and research, and facilitating communication and the distribution of information.
Gender as a Political Issue
The broad theme for the meeting was about being an artist today in the midst of an unsettled political, social and economic climate. I participated in a panel discussion about gender as a political issue, and set the scene for why gender matters, and how and why this is critical amongst the diversity discussion had globally in the arts sector. We cannot escape the labels and identities we have as men, women, people of colour, gay, lesbian etc or can we?
We live in a world that we try to organise, politicise, and we create policies to try to achieve equality and transparency that inevitably lead to box ticking, segregation, sometimes further inequality and prejudice. We are not homogenous groups but complex human beings with a range of narratives and experiences. I am passionate about discussing, debating and exploring gender in different contexts, but often am disappointed that there are usually only women and one or two gay men in the room when talking about gender. There is often the assumption that the discussion will be about the female experience, which mostly it is. Does this necessarily mean that men do not have anything to contribute or complain about?
Join a group of feminists and many will talk about how the middle class white male has nothing to worry about. Maybe not in some aspects, but I refuse to agree with this. They may not have all of the same challenges as women, but they have challenges none the less and are in a more dangerous space from one perspective if their issues are not being aired but being swept under the carpet. We discussed this during the session, as women do we sometimes fall into a trap as artists as being labelled as women creating work about women’s issues, feminist stories, being advocates for equality? Surely we want to create work about what we know and care about, but also to experiment and explore and not be boxed up for particular subjects. So our identities do matter and the labels placed on us, or the ones we choose to have, but when creating work we can do so with a range of lenses, we have the freedom to choose.
A session I attended on cultural mobility hosted by On the Move was fascinating with so many contributors from Europe as well as the USA, Canada and West Africa. It was agreed that working internationally will give an artist prestige at home, and working inter culturally gives the opportunity to exchange knowledge, ways of working, friendship and dialogue with new colleagues. Sometimes artists adapt their work for foreign stages and audiences that can actually lead to losing identity and confidence in one’s work. For some countries such as Nigeria, mobility is an issue regionally and nationally; it is easier to travel to other continents than within your own region, which means that there is not enough sharing and exchange on a local level. Some work being received by houses in the West is only a sample of what is out there, but because only a select number of styles make it over the border, these become saturated and many other performances ignored.
A theatre manager from Kazakhstan talked about a identity crisis facing the nation that has evolved rapidly and now is home to many different cultures. Some delegates commented that this should not be considered a problem but actually, that this is the identity of this new young nation of diverse peoples with a range of stories and styles to share. It may not be ‘developed’ as a country with arts management as a profession but now is a time for discovery and development that can be nurtured in different communities and encouraged. The discussion ended with a riveting question; is cultural diversity a sense of pride for some countries and a burden for others and is this linked with economic privilege?
We claim to be multicultural but is this linked with the power and wealth nations possess? Why just export art? Lets create dialogue and build bridges, but most importantly, lets build friendship.