What should be the response from cultural institutions or institutions of any kind to the racial violence that we are seeing today? How do we respond? Firstly, we need to acknowledge the hurt, pain and ongoing racial violence that occurs not only on our streets and within our communities but also within our institutions. The work can begin by addressing what it means to be an anti-racist institution that reflects this, not only in statements but also in our employment, in our governance, in our programming, in our practice working with artists and the public. We need to reflect upon our work and recognise that systemic racism and issues of racism cannot be seen in isolation. How do we, as institutions through our policies and our practice, act to show solidarity and shape our society? How can we be spaces that voice-up and support our communities’ artistic voices or otherwise when they are in pain? How do we make spaces for our publics to breathe or pause and reflect? Can we act as platforms to bring people together? As cultural institutions, do we recognise that we have a voice that can speak to injustice?
In the case of Iniva we believe our role is to create spaces where we can have conversations that articulate the language of difference through the visual arts. Stuart Hall, the first chair of Iniva, set our mandate of making space for the emerging generation of artists that are to come – making new forms of culture. In making that space we need to set the conditions for artists to be able to work and engage with publics. We believe it should also be a space that stands in solidarity with those who work tirelessly to fight for social justice. We are fortunate enough to be able to work with artists whose engagement with the world is also an interrogation of the political and social fabric that makes up our society. Artists who are not scared to ask the difficult questions, whose work sometimes makes us feel uncomfortable, that makes us face ourselves and more importantly gets us talking to each other about what matters. Our library and archives enrich the practices of artists who wish to continue within this radical tradition and learn about how artists have dealt with similar topics in the past. The learning programme provides encounters with artists to think creatively about how to sustain conversations with the various publics we work with in schools, neighbourhoods and other museums.
The month of June will be one of protest and action. But over the coming months it will also be an opportunity for introspection, to look at ourselves and to think how we can use our voice to ‘do better’ for the world.
Image: Rudy Lowe, 'Depths of our history' (detail), 2020.