An art show where all the artists are brown but it’s not like a big deal.
London-based art collective The White Pube is putting on a show this Friday entitled “Zayn Malik Zindabad.” It will feature only South Asian artists.
But as the founders Zarina Muhammad and Gabrielle de la Puente say, “that’s not a thing. Like no big deal. Cool cool. It’s not like all-white shows are a massive problem that we hate.”
The show will feature around ten artists from all over the South Asian diaspora, with major showing from Australia’s artist community. The topics they cover range from identity to religion to film to literally everything else.
The idea to present an all South Asian lineup of visual artists came from Muhammad’s frustrations with being a brown artist. She often found her art and its themes conflated with being South Asian, even if that wasn’t her goal.
“If you are a brown creator and make things that are technically art, you’re a brown maker in a white art world. The things you make get squashed down,” Muhammad said over Skype.
“People will look at your art and say ‘[you did that] because you’re brown.’ Your identity is always called into question in relation to your art. It never happens to white men. For years I’ve been silently fuming about this. You never get a white male painter being asked ‘so is this about your immense privilege?’ ”
So Muhammad and de la Puente decided to flip the situation and make it all about ethnicity, leaving the audience to grapple with real themes that go deeper.
“We just thought what if we did an all brown show? Where brownness was completely banal. It got to the point where asking ‘Oh, so this is about Indian-ness’ or ‘This is about being Bangaldeshi’ became a trite and ignorant thing to say because it’s all about that. So that’s dealt with. Done,” Muhammad said.
“If you do that can you then talk about other things going on within the work that often get glossed over because of brown exceptionality?”
The work on show operates in a space between film and narrative documentary, engaging the audience visually and through sound.
Muhammad said she and de la Puente felt that there was an impenetrable academic perspective involved in most art critique that made it inaccessible for most people.
“Art critique should be like a conversation you have with your friends,” Muhammad said. “You don’t need to go to school for three years to create art or critique it.”
In October, in their last year at St. Martins, the two launched a website and invited artists monthly to curate the entire site. It was like a living gallery that existed entirely online which everyone could access.
The internet is still a largely wild art space since there are no clear parameters for what can be done with it. And its walls go on, seemingly, forever. Artists on the White Pube’s site have done everything from install experimental films to shower the site in floating icons to include moving text.
Though they never made it explicit, all those featured on the White Pube’s site have been artists belonging to a minority that is disproportionately missing from the mainstream art world, be they artists of color, queer, or trans.
“Zayn Malik Zindabad” will be happening this Friday at Lewisham Arthouse, in South East London. You can RSVP on Facebook.
Muhammad has informed me that the screening will start at 7:30 pm on the dot, so you can’t be running on brown time if you’re trying to party with Zayn.