Contemporary art has typically been dominated by western artists, with a style inspired by the economic and political circumstances of their time. From the masters of the impressionist era through to the modern day, the consciousness of European and North American talent has dictated dialogues and defined norms.
This theme is still prominent today, with non-white artists fully absent from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s modern art section and accounting for less than a third of artists in the Tate Modern’s permanent collection.
In an age of tolerance and acceptance, this simply will not do. On their own, an artist is as good as an island. They need bridges that connect their ideas to the wider word and in the system of Arts, these bridges are foundations, mentors, curators and writers. By neglecting to display the works of non-western artists, museums and galleries are therefore restricting the ability of diasporic artists to promote liberal thinking and to champion alternative perspectives.
This is a travesty because non-western artists bring a unique vision and sensory experience to the debate of the human condition. After all, artists are social commentators and the role of art in society has always been to promote greater tolerance of beliefs. Good art should ignite questions, rather than conforming to accepted norms and should initiate discussions around taboo subject. The absence of diasporic artists from western galleries and museums therefore means that key discussions on gender, race and power lack perspective and cultural nuance.
It is crucial that more is done to tackle this issue and raise the profile of contemporary non-western practice so that it becomes more than a footnote in the grander narrative of contemporary art.
Institutions such as The Tate are now starting to acknowledge this point and are embracing alternative artistic narratives. With reforms taking place, the hope is that the appointment of diasporic curators and directors, will help non-western artists to finally gain the recognition and respect they deserve.
In addition to this, forward thinking foundations such as The Stellar International Art Foundation are playing a crucial role in broadening the artistic narrative. By offering artists from the diaspora a platform to introduce the richness of their practice to society, foundations like Stellar are giving a voice to those who have been historically silenced or omitted altogether.
In line with International Women’s Day, for instance, Stellar invited me to speak at their prestigious annual event on Art, Sensuality and Feminism. The event was designed to challenge the elitist western prejudices that have come to dominate the master narrative of art by igniting discussions on racial and gender equality. Through the medium of my work, the debate took a critical look at social patriarchy and challenged the restrictive parameters that inhibit the progress of minority artists across the globe.
As the event highlighted, artists need the support of wider institutions to help get their voices heard. Art is a visual form of communication, making it democratic and accessible. But if art is not displayed within galleries or promoted by those that control the industry, then it’s power to influence diminishes significantly. We can but hope that western galleries and museums follow the Tate’s trend and stop undermining the very core of artistic ideals, equality.
Faiza is being supported by the Stellar International Art Foundation as part of the organisation’s efforts to champion artistic talent regardless of background or gender. Established in 2008, Stellar has become internationally renowned for its content, coverage and activities around the globe and is a particular champion of female artists and feminist art.