I am working at a major international gallery as the facilitator for a peer-led (15-23s) group who are exploring a number of ideas around the art on show at the gallery. It was their choice to explore the idea of 'The Ghetto' and art. I was chosen as the facilitator because I have done work on this area before. Yesterday I received an email from the 'young person' who is my partner on this, saying he can't find any black artists except Yinka Shonibare and he isn't even on show. His suggestion was to do the workshop on David Hockney instead because he is gay.

This response annoyed me at the time, but sitting here I realised just how pernicious it is. Of course, this guy didn't mean to be offensive or glib. He was trying to provide a solution he thought was appropriate to the problem of a lack of representaion of black or non-european artists in Britian's major contemporary art galleries. It's hard to begin to unpick the problems with it here... but my stomach's now churning with (delayed) emotion so I'm going to try.

I haven't mentioned that this guy is white, but I don't believe anyone who isn't white would have come to the same conclusion, ie, change the topic, 'there are no black artists so let's address something else'. Most non-white people would (and do) ask, well, why are there so few black (or non-european descent) artists represented by this major institution?

ok, that's one thing. His desire to change the topic, to move the focus from black artists, back to a white male artist is one thing.

The other thing is that, though there are very few non-european (descent) artists represented in the gallery, there are one or 2 currently on show that I can think of sitting here at my computer. So either his research is very poor, or he didn't look very hard, or because there is no easy category in the gallery, no room called 'Black Artists', he failed to see those very few.

Now this guy is a lovely guy. He would definately consider himself open-minded and liberal. He would consider himself a 'thinking person', but what he effectively asked me to do was not address the 'too difficult a topic of black artists'. He asked me to maintain the levels of institutional, liberal, white racism that caused the inequity of represention in the first place. And he did so unknowingly and ever so politely.

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