As a personal aside, for me this project couldn’t have come at a better (or worse) time: with the seemingly unstoppable rise of national populism, xenophobia, distrust, fear, and outright hatred that accompanies (and leads to) elections results we’ve seen recently in Austria, Brazil, Hungary, Italy, and Sweden, along with ongoing far-right-ism in Poland, post-Brexit Britain, and in Trump’s Divided States of American.
And the nasty behaviour that comes with it; that is sanctioned by it.
In the years leading up to the United Kingdom European Union membership referendum on 23rd June 2016, and all the more so since, I have felt more and more profoundly ambivalent – not about being a citizen of the European Union but, rather, about being a British citizen.
In defiance of Teresa May, and her first speech as Prime Minister at the Tory Party in early October 2016, I have always felt that I was a citizen of the world, a citizen of nowhere, a global citizen.
I have a ‘freesa’ to prove it – a document issued at a kiosk operated by the Tunisian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2017 that permits me to imagine a utopia in which all human beings as planetary cosmopolitans can move freely from one nation to another to another to another…
I’m one of the lucky ones.
It is of course because of my own British passport that I have the right (and the choice) to tick, as I have been doing for almost a decade, the ‘White Other’ box on government documents, job application questionnaires, and so forth.
In Britain this term is used as a classification of ethnicity, for those of us who self-identify as white but are usually not from the UK, which makes for a diverse rag-bag of individuals. I started doing this because, first, I have the right and the choice to do it, as I’ve noted already, and, second, because, while I was born and brought up in England, I never felt that I was from England, that I was of England, that I belonged. Belong.
(Growing up in a single-parent household with a mother from Germany, who was assaulted regularly by anti-German hostility in the newspapers, on the street, in shops, and at the school gate can do that to a child.)
I’m a Londoner and do have a British passport, but over these last two and a half years I’ve become ever more estranged from this ever-more divided United Kingdom; it’s a feeling exacerbated daily by ever-more unsettling, infuriating, damaging, and saddening acts of prejudice. I’m privileged, and even for me it feels like death by a thousand cuts.
I’ve always relished ticking the ‘White Other’ box. It has always been a private pleasure, until now. No more.
Today is a good day to go public, to come out, to be out and proud of my own mixed-up-ness, such as it is. I am ‘White Other’, a German-Polish-Jew.
(It’s hardly compelling, but it’s what I am, it’s the best I’ve got, so it’ll have to do.)
Historically, being mixed up is rarely not pejorative: it is to be half-caste, quarter-caste, mixed breed, half-breed. It is to have mixed blood. It is mestizo, pardo, tisoy. It is kailoma, hāfu, and any and every term perceived negatively to describe a person of mixed race or ethnicity that, by very dint of being mixed up, will somehow influence adversely the ‘purity’ of a particular race or culture. (Miscegenation, derived from the Latin, mixticius, ‘mixed’, is also the root of mestizo; Caste, also from the Latin, castus, means pure.)
Talk to me about the benefits!
Standing on the shoulders of giants, I too honour and celebrate mixed-up-ness, in-between-ness, the fusing, the hybridizing, an inter-, cross-, and trans- combining and re-combining that is always and forever international, cosmopolitan, and planetary.
‘Mixed up, but in a good way…’ is an occasion to look to the future as mixed up, to a mixed up future, to a future of mixed-up-ness, to how we as artists, designers, artist-educators, teachers, curators, and museum and gallery professionals mightenvisage that future, and to do so in order not only to interpret the world, in various ways, but to change it.
Prove that you Belong, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable collective at Iniva, 2014
Photo credit: Barney McCann, courtesy of agency for agency Barby Asante & Teresa Cisneros
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