Lucy Alice Jackson,
As the exhibition for the initiative Colour Me Black draws nearer, I sat down with two of the committee members Tasnim Siddiqa Amin and Eilidh Hughes to discuss the event’s reception, controversy and principles. Spanning just over half an hour, the statements below are merely a few choice statements taken from a fascinating interview that covered everything from East London graffiti to the pressures associated with free speech in a small community.
On the Origins and Nature of the Event
Tasnim: ‘I come from East London. I was born in Bangladesh but I came to East London when I was two years old. I have grown up in an area dominantly populated by minorities within Britain, and I went to a school that was dominantly Muslim and Bangladeshi. We had people from various backgrounds: European, African, American, Irish, so I grew up in a very diverse community and I did not even notice it. Black history month for us was a big thing, yet it was very natural and we did not just talk about the Civil Rights Movement. Well, obviously we did, but we also talked about other things such as culture. This was my upbringing. Then, I came to St Andrews and it was a real culture shock for me. Some people laugh at me when I say that, but it is true coming from East London to St Andrews there are a lot of differences and although we have diverse backgrounds there seems to be a singular kind of etiquette. People have done a lot of things this year to celebrate diversity such as the Walk but we need to do more and completely immerse ourselves in it. Our aim is to bring that kind of East London diversity of culture, diversity, initiative, passion and art to St Andrews.’
On the Committee
Tasnim: ‘Our meetings take place in a variety of places: art museums, coffee shops, bars, and so on. The people on the committee identify as artists, or the art interested, or art critics, but in the broader sense I feel that they are all artists and have all contributed in some form such as in posters, photography, and so on… I am one of the exhibitions coordinators along with Katherine Thornton. This summer we met up and discussed some ideas, and so Colour Me Black came about at that time. We talked to the president of Art Soc, and our proposal went through. However, we decided that because it was such a large subject we would create a sub committee wherein I am the artistic director.’
Eilidh: ‘I am the publicity manager for Colour Me Black, so my job is very much to facilitate people’s awareness of the project in St Andrews. What I really want to do is get as many people as possible involved and aware of it. Personally, I did not want to contribute any art to the actual project, but I wanted to participate as it is something that matters to me. Social media is a very important tool in spreading awareness so it is our primary way of promoting the event. It has been a fantastic experience and I really enjoyed being on the committee.’
On Controversy Surrounding the Event
Tasnim: ‘We live in one world, one Earth, yet we are separated by continents, races, and cultures. Yet we are all people and that is the important thing, so when I say Colour Me Black it can mean Colour Me Anything, it is simply an example. Everyone has that story behind their origins, they all have that question: “Where are you from?” With some people you can hear the hesitation sometimes, and the justification. “How do I define myself, how important is it?” There seems to be only a small area where people feel comfortable exploring diversity yet it is relevant to every part of our life, for a mental health and for all of society. It is essential to explore it outside of what we already perceive to be a safe space. We must embrace and explore diversity even if it may leave us uncertain or uncomfortable… People have been talking about it (Colour Me Black) and I know people are asking me to be sensitive about it. I have been called self righteous and white, which I do not really understand – I am not white. Are you saying that my committee is too white? If you are going to attack my committee, then you need to examine their backgrounds. There are all sorts of people from South Africa, Lebanon, Wales, and so on. They have all joined for various reasons. I ran interviews and I opened up to everyone. They are the ones who came forward, passionate about the project. How could I limit them, tell them they must look a certain way to make their opinion legitimate? How could I do that?’
Creating the Exhibition
Tasnim: ‘From the beginning I knew that it would be difficult, and I was told that it would be difficult. People said to me: “Are you sure? It is going to be hard.” That is why I had to do it, it is a challenge in the best possible way, so it needs to be done. We have an anonymous artist who we are working with at the moment who feels that their message must be presented in an unbiased manner unaffected by their background which is understandable. They did not want their name to be linked to their work because it would take away from it, and they could not be as honest or as emotional if that was the case. That their opinion may put them at risk in a town where you can be so easily found and identified… whilst nothing is confirmed we can look forward to a wide range of art and different artistic mediums – we have an installation piece, photographs, articles, poetry and fashion all from submissions.’
Tasnim: ‘I apologise to people who believe that this project is too close to home and that this needs to be approached with more sensitivity. I know that it is difficult to face these things, and I am not saying that everyone needs to face these things. I know that sometimes it appears that I am putting across just one kind of viewpoint. Having said that, I am not sorry for what I am saying. I believe that we need to get diversity out there. Some might say that we do not. I welcome artwork that would criticise what I have done, and I would happily showcase that. I do not care where you are from, or who you are. If you are expressing something, I want to hear it. If you want to raise objections do. Write an article, write a comment. What I want to combat most of all is a neglect of expression.’
Colour me Black is certain to be a remarkable event, led by a team of dedicated people with passionate ideals. We invite readers to discuss the event in the comments and draw their own conclusions – analyse, scrutinise and form your own opinions.
Lucy Alice Jackson