Harper Bizarre Art stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and all marginalised communities that have for too long faced injustice and inequity.
That it has taken the tragic killing in the USA by the police of George Floyd and countless others before him, as well as many other killings in the UK, is a tragedy in itself. Institutionalised racism and racist police is not a new thing, there is a long history behind it. Many individuals and groups have been highlighting this throughout my lifetime and before, but the time is now ripe for a systemic change in how institutions and positions of ‘power’ are run.
The charity Inquest have stated that since 1990, there have been 1,743 people in England and Wales who have died following contact with the police. In the UK and USA, as a proportion of the population, black people are more than twice as likely to die in police custody, and force or restraint is more than twice as likely to be involved in their deaths.
Official figures by gov.uk show that police in England and Wales were three times more likely to arrest a black person than a white person and five times more likely to use force in 2018-19.
Social Divides Have Heightened Under Coronavirus
Racism and Coronavirus are both deadly pandemics. Current data has shown black Britons in England and Wales have been nearly twice as likely to die with the disease as white people.
The UK government review into the impact of Coronavirus on ethnic minority communities told a similar tale of social and economic inequalities with poverty, overcrowded housing, and being employed in lower-paid or key worker roles being put forward as factors for this disparity. People from black and ethnic minority groups have also been hit hard financially during the crisis, as research has shown they are more likely to be working in shut-down sectors or precarious jobs.
Britain’s Colonial Past
I stand fully behind the removal of statues and monuments erected in public forums that ‘honour’ the memory of imperialist benefactors such as Cecil Rhodes, these people with blood on their hands should not be held in high regard. These statues and other artworks have no place in our modern society in a park or open public area, where they are quite literally viewed as someone to look up to, but rather should be removed and placed in museums where the role that they played in the slave trade, and the subsequent deaths of many people is acknowledged.
Britain’s colonial past is littered with tragedy and shame, and the education curriculum should not be focussed so much on white Europeans. Knowledge is power and through education of our racist past (and present) lessons can be learned and the history of persecution cannot be allowed to continue.
When Black Lives Matter started in the UK in 2016, it was seen as a predominantly youth-led movement started in protest at police killings of black people in the US. It came to Britain as a coalition of black activists opposing unjust policing and other forms of racism.
The Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, which led to the deaths of 72 people, many of them black and Asian, amid claims of official neglect, highlighted the distrust that many have in authority. Economic decisions had been at the forefront of planning, rather than humane decisions that protect the health and safety of residents.
The Windrush scandal emerged in 2018, when thousands of people from Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean and Africa were wrongly told they were in Britain illegally. People lost their homes, their jobs, and were deported from the country they resided in, all leading to a traumatic effect and a high level of mistrust of policy and authority.
This succession of issues affecting black communities has made people more willing to speak out and demonstrate. People have become activists, fighting for their rights to their home, or for compensation for the wrongs that have been done to them. The democratic process is not working for the people, in many respects it works against people. In my opinion the entire political system needs to be changed in the UK, but hey, that’s a story for another blog.
As an artist I think it is important to acknowledge that art can and should, be used for political purposes. The history of protest art is long and varied, and I’m not going to detail it now, but it is a valid form of protest, and in some cases worldwide, is the means of getting messages across to others, when sometimes being vocal about politics is punishable. The history of money art, for example, is peppered with social non-compliance, and has proved to be a tool for spreading messages on a wider scale.
Art has the power to memorialise the human experience and shape culture, but for too long, the art world has offered a predominantly white male perspective and excluded the voices and participation of others.
I recognise that it is not enough to be simply ‘not racist’ but that I must strive to be actively anti-racist. To best serve the community and the legacy of art, I must do more to actively support and represent more diverse and marginalised groups.
My hope is that the rest of the art world will do the same, in their working and personal lives, and that we can all transform the art world. Real significant change takes a commitment and long-term effort.
You can find out more about Black Lives Matter UK at https://blacklivesmatter.uk/
You can listen to a Jazbaa podcast that I took part in earlier this year titled ‘The Power Of Art In Activism’ at
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