EMANCIPATION, I GUESS.
This is the working title for my new project: a continuation from what I was looking at previously (resistance, race, British histories). With my Handsworth Uprising research, I looked at archival records as well as artwork produced by Black artists around that time, to try and answer what caused the riots. A strong theme that emerged was accessibility – Handsworth residents weren’t engaging in mindless hooliganism; they were resisting against something.
After I wrote the essay, I started contrasting the response to the Handsworth Riots with that of the St Paul Riots in Bristol (only a year earlier). I noticed that there was a more positive sentiment – similar to the uprising against the British Fascists on Cable Street. The Handsworth Riots was seen as almost nonsensical, like those reporting on it couldn’t work out why it had happened.
This was despite me being able to identify various factors that could have sparked the riots, including rumours of the National Front paying the neighbourhood a visit. This made me begin to think about what makes something a “Battle” or an “Uprising”, and what makes something a “Riot”. Bathes’ semiotics and the comparison of a mouse to a rat came to mind.
From that, I now want to look at space and accessibility, and differences between Britishness and citizenship. Because in the public imagination, they are different.
Even though Britain has undergone many changes over even the last few hundred years, Britishness has always looked a certain way. This is because it goes hand-in-hand with the ways Britain rose to global prominence: empire (colonialism and slavery) at the cost of many lives, including Black lives.
Thus, Black people, even those with citizenship or those born here, do not fit into the British imagination as equals, or as “British”. Rather, Black people within this imagination, are here to serve and sacrifice for the “greater good” of empire.
This notion has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Space is allegedly precarious for us all, and yet:
- Black people dying at higher rates in [“developed” or “first world” countries, like] the UK.
o Yet public discourse seems to suggest that Black death is likelier due to pre-existing conditions present in various Black communities.
o Eugenics entering discourse = idea that Black people are “naturally” more likely to catch virus despite Black countries not having high death rates
o Focus on shock at how well Africa and West Indies has inhibited spread of virus, and NOT how badly Occidental countries like the UK have handled it.
- Black health workers feeling pressured to work during the pandemic
o Yet the erasure of this representation in a lot of journalism – especially at the beginning.
- Areas with high populations of Black people being targeted by police in the name of “social distancing” – two Black men tased (one hospitalised, one in front of his child)
o Yet VE Day gatherings were reported optimistically by the BBC
- Halting of Windrush deportations coinciding with the closing of borders in West Indian countries.
- New “skill-based” immigration laws passed, but an extra year given to “essential workers”
Boundaries have been put in place to distinguish “Black” people from “British” people. This is the backdrop where Black people have to navigate their everyday.
Notice that whenever Black people operate outside of the British imagination (for example, expressing disdain for their treatment, celebrating and engaging in their culture and heritage), – and it’s not only Black people, but they’re the demographic I’m focusing on – they are told to “go back home”.
Ultimately, I am of the belief that in a country like this, intra-communal unity is the first frontier.
I want to produce two photographs that liken the everyday experience to a kidnapping.
Where you’re taken from your home and brought to a strange place for someone else’s financial gain. And you’re waiting to be rescued or killed but it’s like neither is happening – you just keep existing for the purpose of this person’s financial gain.
You have two options: you can keep waiting and hope that someone will free you – either the people back at home, or the captor themselves; OR you can free yourself. I want to produce two photographs that depict these options.
Currently, the working title is, EMANCIPATION, I GUESS.