How to Decolonize Your Artwork

A simple guide by Amal Amer, founder of Diaspora Babes

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It’s no secret that diaspora communities are often tied to a single story. Because mainstream media has long-been overwhelmingly whitewashed, many POC in the West have felt silenced, if not invisible. And that’s why many of them are now disrupting traditional media, creating their own safe spaces where they have complete freedom and agency.

California-raised, Paris-based 23-year-old Yemeni-Lebanese Amal Amer launched her podcast Diaspora Babesin Sagittarius season of 2018, although the idea was a long time in the making”, she says. Working with a few friends who have shared similar feelings, her work seeks to explore diaspora culture and open up the conversation to the nuances of POC diaspora voices. But as a medium, art is the most precious to her. “In most diaspora families, art is under-appreciated and there is an enormous push to go into science, medicine, engineering and lawyering”, she says when asked why art means so much to her, “but it’s through art that I’m able to communicate with the world”, she adds.

With Diaspora Babes, Amer’s mission is dual. On an individual level, she hopes to empower those who like her, have felt like they didn’t fit the mould that was constructed for them. And on a bigger scale, she seeks to challenge the racist and capitalist status quo by advocating and creating structures for her community.

We asked Amer to share five easy ways to decolonize your creative practice.

Remember your art is important
Your art is important, Diaspora Babe. Your art is important both on the personal level and on the collective level. On a personal level, your creative practice brings you joy and that is reason enough to keep doing it. In relation to the collective, the story of the world is shattered and buried in the hearts of each person. Black and brown artists, especially those who aren’t cis men, do not have their experiences and thoughts represented in the wider cultural narrative. By valuing your art, you speak up for the ancestors who were silenced and rectify the present imbalance towards white men.

Diversify who you consume
Creative people need to be fed. Art is a collective wisdom channelled and embodied by an artist. If white men make all the narratives you’re consuming, there’s a problem. Look at your favourite movies, TV shows, YouTube channels, Instagram accounts, novels and designers. Ensure that the vast majority of them are people of colour, especially those who aren’t cis straight men; it will make a difference in your art and life. It’s not that white people can’t make good art, it’s that people of colour are always sidelined in them. You’re not the brown best friend living in a story where the white person is the hero. You and your fellow Diaspora Babes are the protagonists who enable each others success. Give particular attention to making sure you listen to and centre the most marginalized voices, including Black woman.

Claim your lineage
This is who you’re in conversation with, even if they’re dead. Who are you in dialogue with? Who is responding to your work? Most importantly, cite the work of other people of colour as influences. There are so many Black and Brown people, especially women and queer folks, who innovate and create ideas and then have someone else take credit for the idea. Citing your influences doesn’t make your ideas less valuable; it gives you the credibility of lineage. Shifting the perspective to collective change, built on the foundation of collaborators’ work.

Define your audience
Are you always making your art for the white gaze? Are you making art for the rich? Who is your art meant to touch? Where are you in their stories? Professors in my art department would always push me to make white people my audience, to make it legible to them. Reject the power hierarchy that always demands white people be centred and catered to.

Embrace the collective
Decolonizing alone is one thing, but decolonizing in collective is necessary. Forge, nourish, and sustain supportive relationships with other creative people of colour. You can understand each other, support each other, call each other in, and level up together. Compensate each other for work. That’s the move for 2019. Instead of seeing your friends’ successes or growth as threatening, see their triumphs as a reflection of your own worth. Unfortunately there’s an inescapable problem of creating in the white dominated art world of running between tokenization and anonymity. My alternative is creating critical connections with other Diaspora Babes.

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