No Heroes Redux by Campbell
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No Heroes Redux by Campbell
The Bressonian protagonist (Angus Brown in 'They Call Me...Don't Call Me...' - John Sealey 2006)

The Bressonian protagonist (Angus Brown in 'They Call Me...Don't Call Me...' - John Sealey 2006)

Campbell considers the No Heroes film programme, selected for the Progress Report exhibition at Iniva.

Iniva was founded with the ethos originating from the artistic and political initiatives of the ‘new internationalism’ and the Black Arts movement of the 1980s. Professor Stuart Hall, provided a blueprint for its remit which was to ‘bring artwork in from the margins of invisibility, from misunderstanding and neglect, and into the mainstream.’

Progress Reports was a response to Stuart Hall’s statement. Have the landscape of Black Arts changed 15 years later? Since Iniva was formed Chris Ofili has won the Turner Prize in 1998, and video artist Steve McQueen, directed an award-winning feature film, Hunger (GB, 2008). Isaac Julien was also nominated for the Turner prize in 2001. So Black Arts has certainly moved into the mainstream. However it is not lost on me that these artists providing news worthy “mainstream” content are all (normative) males irregardless of sexual orientation and are all of African descent. In addition 15 years later the work of artists of colour on the whole is still invisible and neglected.

Entry into the art world is still dominated by gatekeepers of European descent. In addition an artist’s career path must be validated by the institution of study and then by the legitimisers: gallery owners; curators; art critics; arts editors; the dealers. This was analysed so clearly in a keynote lecture given by artist Adrian Piper at the Frieze Art Fair called Criticizing the Critics. She states: “each act of criticism, enacted by different players (validated by certain institutions) for different reasons, …implicitly chooses whether or not to register the artwork in consciousness, so each act contributes to a determination to the works …visibility and therefore that artist’s professional success.”  So even though some artists of colour may be household names they are still in a tiny privileged minority.

With all the critical aspects as well as the historical place of Iniva swimming around in my head I was clear I wanted to include films that “subvert images and archetypes from Hollywood, Bollywood and mainstream history, re-framing them to create fresh narratives. These re-visionings allow the artists to create new worlds where gender, race and desire slide along shifting terrains.” No Heroes introduces elements of pansexuality, desire and racial risk in terms of representation. All works transgress 1980’s political identities and they would not sit comfortably in the Black Arts world from which Iniva originated.

John Sealey’s shares communal pleasure with the public, using heroes and heroines from Blaxploitation cinema, much maligned by the Black intelligentsia, with They Call Me…, Don’t Call Me… (GB, 2006). In Being Mammy, (Mammy’s Looks)  (GB, 2004), Harold Offeh cross-dresses as the archetypal Mammy performing poignant silent gestures which might have been used as a protective mask by mammies of the past. Tejal Shah in Chingari Chumma /Stinging Kiss (India, 2000) also genderqueers her performance as a wicked dacoit, tormenting a man who waits in vain to be rescued by his hero. Hetain Patel in Kanku Raga (GB, 2008) plays out a raga rhythm while painting and removing a blood red cross from his body. He ends up with bloodied hands, at once complicit with British nationhood with the symbol of the St George’s Cross, but creating distance with the sound of the Indian raga resonating in the cinema. Both he and Kara Walker in 8 Possible Beginnings or The Creation of African-America, a Moving Picture (USA, 2005) do not show loyalty to one nation or race. 8 Possible Beginnings using cut out figures offers up dark imaginings created by the corrupting psychology of the Transatlantic Slave Trade for both Africans and Europeans. In every programme there is light and shade, and Lisa Reihana’s Wog Features (NZ, 1990) uses colour, animation and performers in blackface to deconstruct gender, desire and racial purity.

The filmmakers in No Heroes, offered me as a filmmaker and programmer a way to revisit my own work, but to also offer inspiration to all artists who do not fit easily into labels created 15 years ago.

About the Author: Campbell is an award-winning filmmaker/writer . She has produced and directed for galleries and television. Her titles include the award-winning BD Women (1994, Channel 4 TV) and Legacy (2006, Arnolfini). She also directed Fem (2007) and Broken Chain (2008, BBC) Campbell’s body of work was honoured by the Queer Black Cinema festival in New York in March 2009. Image, Memory and Representation, a retrospective of her work, was programmed at the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival 2007. Find Campbell at / Twitter / MySpace / Facebook / Vimeo.

The exhibition Progress Reports runs from 28 January – 13 March at Rivington Place, London. Check the Iniva website for screening times of the No Heroes programme.

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