UPDATE: The Vibe Gallery space show is now finished. Apologies for wrongly stating 18th July. See comments for other shows and finding 60×60 films.
motiroti is a long-established British-based organisation that currently works in collaboration with artists from Britain, India and Pakistan. It’s most recent major project is entitled 360 degrees which forms the first part of a three year programme of events (2007 – 2010) and 60×60 is currently showing in East London at the Vibe Gallery, 91-95 Brick Lane London till 18th July 2008.
An early aim of motiroti was spelled out by the feminist theorist Dorothy Rowe in her text Cultural Crossings thus: ‘…to make art projects that transform space, and the meaning of space…’. Little has changed by way of ideology and leadership at motiroti since those words were lifted by Rowe from their ‘Mission Statement’ in 2002.
Where identity politics may have worked for Griselda Pollock and the cultural formations of the ‘other’, even the performative aspects of motiroti’s Wigs (1995) is problematical to us today as being a straight derivative of cultural identity politics.
Rowe’s unwinding of a stable identity whereby she suggests that fixed identity has given way to a fluidity and open-endedness approach to stating identities by playing the performance or performative card on cultural identity, an evaluation of 60×60 films may not be any better for taking the same path of contemporary feminist evoked interplay. An ‘open-endedness’ may not be an option in today’s fragmenting society unless by ‘open-endedness’ we mean globalisation which of course is motiroti’s primary concern.
It would imply the continuous breakdown of our culture in national boundary terms which some would say is not an option post 9/11. Art has to both reflect and condition current cultural norms. Here the emphasis would be on the conditioning.
The first few of the 60×60 films are currently on show and are also available through the motiroti.com website. All the films are on the subject of identity as we may interpret it today and the current contributions are both thought provoking and in some instances beautifully filmed. One such film, The Great Identity Swindle (Directed and Edited by VideoWallah) by the British rap-artist Yam Boy, is a performance cross-media installation on Asian identity in Britain. Yam Boy, primarily a vocal artist, has produced a comic strip version of his poetical mix of dual country (Britain and India) inheritance. Politically charged but internally perfected, Yam Boy has produced a performative response concerning his mixed cultural and possibly historically marginalised existence.
Identity on racial terms is clearly not so easy to define in the twenty-first century in as much as his reference to ‘Pale Ale’ and courting ‘…white girls that disappoint their mother…’ held within the temporal frames of a Roy Lichtenstein comic strip more than double for both the acceptance and the denial of the ‘dominant’ culture. Yam Boy’s critique of cultural existence shows that today’s performance artists are both bright and come individually wrapped in their own ideas of identity.
The approach, although appearing to match the essentialist approach of early feminist theory (I am British [man] you are Asian [woman and therefore other]) to paraphrase, is non-essentialist and meaning can be neither predefined or fixed. The audience is encouraged to participate in striking the right harmony or disharmony along the way depending entirely on their point of view.
In this way it becomes anti-feminist in approach depending for its persuasion the audience’s perspective. From within the barrier of the comic strip form , the poetry performance comes alive and the rigid comic strip gives way to a filmic existence as it transgresses each frame in turn. Still to movie, silence to performance and back again all in the space of a line or so of poetry.
If we are to understand our own identity today through the medium of art, we have to understand not just the cultural differences and sameness on display or being acted out, but we must also be able to produce an ordered purpose for understanding the same. There are as yet no ready-made and lasting rules of engagement in identity matters that work to everyone’s satisfaction.
The motiroti work on display this July can be considered both as performance and art installation. The installation is motiroti’s use of the multiple screens arranged within the pre-defined gallery space. The performances are the films themselves. Overall motiroti’s influence is assured with such an arrangement, but rarely detracts from the performances on display.
What then would Yam Boy acting like an indigenous Englishman, pale ale and all, say? Well surely he would say little above what we already know just by drinking ‘pale ale’, one of the essentialist signifiers in his film for the term ‘English’. He might become intoxicated but that would not affect the normative experience whether that be a subversive or unsubversive manifestation of his Englishness. ‘Such judgements cannot be made out of context…’ stated Judith Butler, once relating her own gendered experiences to a captive audience. It is in Yam Boy’s audience to know the reality and make the judgements on racial terms if they must. Drinking pale ale either constitutes the real or it doesn’t.
It is quite easy to curve fit Yam Boy into Butler’s contemporary feminist arguments, although Butler is such a dense read it facilitates the interpretations or rather the mis-interpretations to perfectly fit the curve of the scholarship. Playing to the gallery was never easier than with feminist theory it would seem. Meanwhile, I expect Yam Boy will keep rapping his poetical critique on this broken culture.
60×60 is at The Truman Brewery, 91-95 Brick Lane London till 18th July 2008 and films are available with iTunes from the 360 degrees website
Other artists on show:
Said Adrus, Khaldoon Ahmed, Abdullah Chhadeh & Nico Piazza & Aliya Salahuddin, Nirmal Singh Dhiman, Monika Dutta, Atif Ghani, Sheila Ghelani, Harjinder Grewal, Seema Gill, Seemab Gul, Shobna Gulati, Shanaz Gulzar, Sanchita Islam, Simon Kallow, Rizwan Mirza, Rummana Naqvi, Hetain Patel, Rajyashree Ramamurthi, Daniel Saul, Sashwati Mira Sengupta & Semonara Chowdhury, Rajni Shah, Yam Boy, Ali Zaidi.
Khadeeja Arif, Natasha Badhwar, Pawas Bisht, Neel Chaudhuri & Samar Grewal & Kartikey Shiva, Baptist Coelho, Nitin Das, Ritu Datta, Elvis D'Silva, Tascha Eipe, Sukanya Ghosh, Vishwajyoti Ghosh, Bidhu Bhushan Panda, Nila Madhab Panda, Gautam Pandey, Pranav Sahi, Surya Shankar Dash, Avinash & Geeta Singh, Santosh K Singh, Hemanth Subramaniam, Abhilash V.
David Alesworth, Unum Babar, Nida Bangash, Joshinder Chaggar, Shazieh Gorji, Mazhar Hussain, Ferwa Ibrahim, Juhi Jaferii & Taimoor Tariq & Komail Naqvi, Shalalae Jamil, Roshaan Khattak, Adnan Malik, Kohi Marri, Asma Mundrawala, Mehreen Murtaza, Syed Ali Nasir, Muzzumil Ruheel, Zarmeene Shah, Vasiem Siddiq, Sehban Zaidi, Maheen Zia.
Judith Butler, Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire in Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (Routledge, Abingdon 1999)
Gill Perry (ed.), Difference and Excess in Contemporary Art: The Visibility of Women’s Practice (Blackwell Publishing, Oxford 2004) for Dorothy Rowe
Griselda Pollock Vision and Difference (Routledge, Abingdon 2003)