Audio Interview with me by Tyrone Ali at Bocas Litfest in Trindad, April 2014.
I disagree with the protestors who wanted to, and in effect, shut down ‘Exhibit B’ last week. I had booked to see it and was looking forward to witnessing such a bold and challenging work of art. However, the protestors decided it was racist, accumulated over 20,000 signatures, and their protest at the venue on Monday night led to the show being cancelled, even though some of them, strangely, now seem to think it had nothing to do with the 200 of them gathered with drums and protest outside the venue doors with the explicit intent of not letting people through. And even though, when I casually mentioned I was going to Exhibit B at a talk I gave about my own work at Goldsmiths a week earlier, some of the audience said they objected to it and would be there outside the venue and would be among the people who would stop me entering.
The problem is that I’m perfectly capable of making up my own mind about whether a work of art is racist and I object to people deciding for me, people who have not even seen the performance, which they’ll proudly declare. Their debate on this matter ranges from dictating the terms on which we artists create art, what is acceptable and what isn’t (to them); to speaking on behalf of the ‘black community’ as if we are a homogenous entity in this country; to accusing those white people who object to their protest as racist. The campaign leader, Sara Myers, said on film that ‘our’ ancestors ‘memories will not be used for art’. It’s so ridiculous it beggars belief, really. I expect her to come up with a list of dos and don’ts, so that we know from now on what is acceptable to her as the self-appointed spokesperson of ‘the black community’. The protestors have been very vocal in the media in their opposition to the performance but their victory is their own, it is not mine. Actually, I’m furious and ashamed. We’ve just had a debate on Facebook about it and their arguments are all over the place and don’t stand up to scrutiny. People are angry about racism, which I understand, but I think their anger is misguided in this instance. Join me on FB to see the posts.
Announced May 12th, 2014. I set up this £3000 prize for African poets when I joined the English & Creative Writing Dept at Brunel Uni three years ago. Ethiopian poet, Liyou Libsekal, who lives in Addis Ababa, is the winner of the second year of the prize this year, and Nick Makoha and Amy Lukau are runners-up. Warsan Shire was the winner in its first year. Visit site: http://www.africanpoetryprize.org/