Hello, I’m Khushi and I’m on the Illustration & Visual Media Course.
Over the past year I’ve been working on my own illustration practise and opening an online store. I’ve also worked for two charities, and made an animation for an OCD charity and a set of icons and a poster for a Parkinson’s charity.
I first heard about the decolonisation of art when we discussed it in Community of Practice. I've learnt that decolonisation in the context of creative practice is important within art. An important part of decolonised design is thinking about the audience and their backgrounds, not just socio-economic background or national background but ethnicities and cultural backgrounds.
A very good way to illustrate this is something very topical at the moment - covid and vaccinations against covid infection. BAME groups have shown a low uptake in vaccination. This is possibly because of how people perceive vaccination in these communities. Different ethnicities and people from different backgrounds perceive things in different ways which Is specific to their background. In the BAME community there is reported concern about side effects of the vaccine and the harm it can cause to them, its efficacy and necessity. Of course there are lots of conspiracy theories around covid vaccination, such as the origins of the virus eg how people think it was made in a lab as biological warfare. However these BAME people are not conspiracy theorists or anti-vaxxers, the fact that there is vaccine hesitancy within these communities reflects how the public healthcare system has not been effective in conveying these messages to people. Also, there is a lack of faith in the healthcare system within BAME communities because in the past, research on black people has employed some unethical practices. Also, not enough people from a BAME background have been involved in the research for vaccine trials, and traditionally in clinical research. Therefore, it makes sense that BAME people would be skeptical of the vaccine. To add to this, a lot of these people have not had good experiences with the healthcare system due to systemic discrimination and racism. All of this and perhaps more are responsible for ‘vaccine hesitancy’.
Therefore, any awareness campaign that aims to address this issue, would have to consider all of this. People from a BAME background should be involved in such poster awareness campaigns as they are acutely aware of these issues. If you have non-BAME people produce these materials, they will be viewing this through their eyes and there is a risk that it may not be culturally relevant then. The messages in those campaigns need to be consistent with issues that are culturally specific to the BAME people. This is a good example of how decolonising the preparation of the awareness artwork is absolutely essential if it is to be useful at all.
There are also deeply entrenched western methods of creative practice. Have you heard of any impressionists from Africa? Or a surrealist from India? Or a sculptor from China? No, because traditional Eastern art forms are often labelled as ‘crafts’ which is belittling the artistic practice or creativity of local artists.
Of course this is not confined to art. A good example of this is mathematics. When we were in school, almost all over the world we are taught ‘traditional’ (western) methods of addition and multiplication, algebra, trigonometry etc. Not many people speak of other equally robust mathematical practices. For example, Vedic maths. This is a set of mathematical principles described in the ancient Indian vedas (scriptures). We’ve always been taught to use long multiplication to square numbers, which takes a while and is unnecessarily complicated. Vedic maths however, provides very simple ways of squaring numbers. E.g. squaring a 2 digit number ending in 5 is accomplished by splitting the number into 2 digits and multiplying the number on the left hand side by the number following it and for the right hand side, it is a simple square of 5 which we know is 25. Then, you simply join the two digits together. For example:
Teachers in the UK always told me that this method was incorrect and that I would lose marks for my ‘working out’ if I didn’t use the traditional long multiplication method. However, as you can see, the Vedic maths method is pretty robust and accomplishes in a fraction of the time what you would accomplish with the long method.
Obviously this is not an example of the decolonisation of art however this is an example of a wider need for acceptance of equally appropriate non-western methods within multiple disciplines including creative practice.
There are other elements of decolonisation which I am aware of, and I recognise that they will impact my creative practice. For example, as illustrated above, if I am working on a creative piece which is relevant to a particular culture, I might pass it on to someone I know of that cultural background, as it would be more fitting for them to work on the project.
Also, after looking at my bookshelves, I have realised the majority of my books are by western authors. This doesn’t mean that I’m not going to think of non-western practice in my creative designs, but it makes me acutely aware that this is an issue to pay attention to every time I am working on a creative brief. I plan to now read books from a range of authors from different backgrounds, as opposed to just reading the ‘popular’ or ‘recommended’ western art books.
Movements in art often reflect changes in society. Perhaps the necessity of decolonisation of art reflects what needs to be done within society at large. Some change seems to be happening… but it is not enough.
Illustration & Visual Media