Knowing Yourself Lets You Understand Others
Last month, we opened our webspace exclusively to women, People of Colour, Indigenous peoples, and queer, trans and non-binary individuals in an effort to encourage them to share their work with us and use our space to promote themselves and their practice. Today, we will be putting everyone else back on the site. Here are a few of my thoughts on the the past month — I will keep short.
As a queer POC who can pass as a straight white man, I’m afforded a lot of the advantages that come along with that. As an artist, one of these advantages has always been being able to create, and maintain my practice, without ever having to worry about reactions to my work based on my identity. I can make and have made “sad boy” art (tired af and yet here I am still doing it, lol). Perhaps even the fact that I feel qualified enough to write this out is a testament to my privilege. That being said, I don’t believe we could ever really be entirely successful in what we aimed to do with the website and gallery this month. There are 4 core members of our team. Of them, 1 identifies as a straight woman, 1 is a straight POC immigrant, I’m queer and mixed, and the last is a straight white guy. We tried to be very careful this past month not to step into the territory of white saviourism and virtue signalling because we realize that we may not be representative of all the groups we aimed to promote. We reached out to members of these communities to figure out how to best go about this, what language to use, because even as POCs, a woman, allies, etc, we can falter sometimes.
As an organization, Centerfold’s aim has always been to support artists and get them compensated fairly for their work. This past month has ultimately been an extension of that. There are artists whose work you don’t see, and a lot of that comes from institutional biases, especially coming from a community that selects winners and losers, decides who sells and who doesn’t, often all in a wildly opaque fashion. This past month has been focused on allowing marginalized artists to show their work in an environment free of biases. We deferred our standard curation process to exclusively allow submissions from women, People of Colour, Indigenous peoples, along with queer, trans and non-binary individuals. We got a lot of interesting and important new work and artists featured on the site.
A lot of our taste is informed by what we’re exposed to. Can you imagine what happens to the mind growing up being exposed to art in an era of white male dominated art? I hate to mention a certain famous taxidermist, or a certain British street artist (he’s white!). I can think of some big moments this past year where the mainstream art world has celebrated POC artists (Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald’s portraits of Obamas was an important moment for mainstream art), and yet most, if not all, of the mainstream news we hear about “important” auctions is focused on how white men’s art being sold for millions (just google it…). This doesn’t seem accessible or inclusionary. This is a closed system that chooses who sells and who doesn’t, so why isn’t more work being done to support artists from diverse communities?
White men have had the entire course of human history to get ahead — the art world is long overdue to try to change that, and we want to use our platform to do that. We firmly believe it’s up to grass roots movements to go about bringing institutional change, and we welcome others to join us.
We made some mistakes that we want to acknowledge here. We overlooked people with disabilities as part of this initiative, and when we did realize, we noticed that there’s still a lot of work we have to do in order to make Centerfold more accessible. We are beginning to work on that properly. We didn’t get it 100% right this time around, but we’re trying.
Today we’re releasing a featured collection of some of our favourite new work that was discovered as part of this initiative. Knowing Yourself Lets You Understand Others (s/o Jenny Holzer always) is a celebration of new Centerfold artists whose work continues to interest and challenge us. Thank you for trusting us with what you make. Please know we do this all for you.
We’d like to thank everyone who was involved in this initative.
Correction: April 4th, 2018
An earlier version of this blog post contained copy contributed to Centerfold that was mistakenly used by the author of this artcile without consent. This copy has since been removed.