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Racisms: From the Crusades to the Twentieth Century, By Francisco Bethencourt: Book Review

The Independent, Friday 17 January 2014

A survey of racism from across the centuries reveals a phenomenon that repeats itself

Bulgarian benefit tourists, Romanian criminal gangs, the alleged abduction of a blonde, blue-eyed child by Roma: anti-immigrant hostility is more pronounced in Britain than any time in a generation. With it have come a raft of questions about race and national identity that were once confined to the fringes of public debate. Is Britain full? Is our way of life at breaking point? Is it racist to raise such points? And come to that, what exactly does racism mean in a modern, multicultural nation like Britain anyway?

Answers, especially to the last question, often prove elusive. That’s because racism is often treated as a subject too charged, too sensitive to address head-on. It’s easier to see it instead as an ugly but inescapable fact of life, a failing common to all nations when different groups decide they can’t get along. But history also offers examples of societies where intolerance, unchecked, has triggered horrifying consequences.

Moscow’s New Art Centres

FT Magazine, 15 March 2013

A tour of the hotspots of a creative renaissance that could lift Moscow’s profile as a cutting-edge destination

Despite its weighty historical reputation and the sheer fact of its scale as the second-largest city in Europe, Moscow does a poor job of wooing visitors.

It is expensive, traffic-choked, and can be pitilessly cold, but Russia’s capital is also in the midst of a creative renaissance. In the two decades since the end of communist rule, runaway commerce has been the city’s galvanising force. Now its contemporary art, design and architecture are starting to make the running too, with new arts centres and creative hubs helping to raise the city’s ambitions.

Around 4.5m foreign tourists travel to the Russian capital annually. That’s about the same as Prague, but is a long way behind London’s 15m international visitors or Paris’s 8.5m. Moscow’s city authorities are determined to change that situation and have set a goal of 10m annual visitors by the end of this decade. Reaching that target would catapult Moscow into tourism’s premier league and establish the city as one of the top 10 travel destinations in the world.

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Black Power Mixtape shows rebels in a new light

The Telegraph, 15 Oct 2011

With the release of the documentary Black Power Mixtape, interest in the Black Panthers is greater now than at any time since the 60s

Forty years ago, the Black Panther Party was the most reviled and feared political organisation in the United States. Party members took part in dozens of shoot‑outs with the police, leading to injuries and deaths on both sides. Hundreds of Panthers were on trial or in jail for crimes including murder, extortion and drug racketeering. J Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI, declared them “without question, the greatest threat to the internal security of the country”.

Riven by internal conflict, the party fell apart in the late Seventies, officially closing in 1982. But in the decades since, a remarkable turnaround has taken place in perceptions of the organisation to the extent that today, cultural and critical interest in their image and beliefs has rarely been higher. more

The return of right-wing retro

Port, 16 May 2011

Is 2011 a repeat of 1981? Two weeks ago, Britain celebrated a royal wedding with an enthusiasm and patriotic fervour that almost matched the betrothal of Charles and Diana. And today, as then, we can also see a creeping right-wing retro revivalism – an embrace of conservative style, status symbols and values – spreading across British culture.

That’s not to say that 1981 was an inherently conservative year. Sure Thatcher was in power. But it was a time of bitter division: of 2.5m unemployed, riots in Brixton, IRA hunger strikes and the Militant Tendency as a serious force in the Labour party. But if the country was split socially and politically, then it found some solace in the embrace of fashion trends and brands that espoused a traditionalist, un-modern and anti-urban concept of Britishness. This was the age of Laura Ashley dresses and Tricia Guild wallpaper, the Sloane Ranger and the Young Fogey, the Aga as a symbol of enduring tradition. more

The art of protest

Port, 18 April 2011

Can art change the world? Ekow Eshun on the total politics of Ai Weiwei

Politics has been a desperately unfashionable subject in art for the past decade or more. That’s roughly the length of time of the last art boom and it’s telling that the big hitters of that era – among them Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami and Damien Hirst – produce art that is glossy and expensively finished but which raises few questions or hackles. In its absence of dissonance, a Koons giant inflatable bunny or a Hirst spin painting has become a perfect status symbol for moneyed classes around the world from investment bankers and hedge fund guys to Russian oligarchs and Gulf state sheiks. more

Shock and awe: The art of Chris Ofili

The Independent Friday, 22 January 2010

A major retrospective of Chris Ofili’s work opens at Tate Britain next week. Ekow Eshun talks to Ofili about his new-found ‘sense of freedom’

Ekow Eshun: We’re in your studio in Trinidad, so what brought you here and what took you away from London?

Chris Ofili: I felt in some way things had closed down. London was an exciting place to work at one point, because socially it was very progressive – a catalyst. There were very interesting artists making all types of work, but it got to a point where the social aspect became claustrophobic. The fact it was all happening in London became counter-productive, and highlighted the fact that there’s a big world out there, and places where there isn’t so much vanity about the cultural scene. It also got to a point where I felt the work was really known in a public sense, that the division between public and private was like a thin membrane. And I didn’t feel that gave me a greater sense of freedom. The public is not within my control, but the work is, and I wanted to make changes within the work. That couldn’t happen in an arena that was familiar to me. more

View from the top: Ekow Eshun, artistic director, Institute of Contemporary Arts

PR Week UK, 10 January 2008

Ekow Eshun rose through the ranks of trend-setting journalism at record speed, before reinvigorating one of London’s premier arts venues. Adam Hill finds out how he has boosted the profile of the Institute of Contemporary Arts.

Ekow Eshun is rightly described as a high achiever. A former assistant editor of style bible The Face and editor of men’s magazine Arena (both before his 29th birthday), he regularly appears as a cultural commentator on Newsnight Review as well as writing for The Guardian and The Observer.

He has penned a highly readable memoir, Black Gold of the Sun, in which he made the startling discovery that he is descended from a slave trader. For nearly three years he has been artistic director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in central London, guiding the institution through a spectacular 60th year in 2007. And he doesn’t turn 40 until May. more

How my future caught up with the past

Financial Times, 7 June 2007

Art has the power to disrupt our relationship with the everyday. So does having your first child – I now live in a permanent state of immanence

I’ve been thinking a lot about the future recently. Four weeks ago, my partner Jenny and I had our first child – a boy called Milo. I am elated, of course, but also conscious that the horizon of my world has contracted to match his – Jenny and I now live in a permanent state of immanence dominated by the prospect of the next feed or nappy change. more

Cultural Politics

London Evening Standard, March 11 2005

HE IS the adept cultural pundit regularly called upon to pronounce on high art or racial politics. Now, rather than dissect other people’s output from the comfort of the studio sofa, Ekow Eshun is taking on a troubled artistic project of his own. By David Rowan

Eshun is the surprise choice as the new artistic director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts. The 58-year-old institute, in its prime location in The Mall, may still be a favourite haunt of London’s trendiest students, but critics are questioning its lack of focus and cultural influence. The post was widely expected to go to an acclaimed Swiss curator, Hans Ulrich Obrist, whose terms were rumoured to be excessive for ICA budgets. So is the home-grown style journalist the man to give the ICA a renewed purpose?

His previous work, as a member of its governing council, included telling Ivan Massow that he had to resign as chairman, and then publicly calling Massow a “pillock”. So when he was appointed this week, he knew as well as anyone the pressures he will now face confronting its internal splits, tarnished critical reputation and financial uncertainty.
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Battle of the brands

Hip-hop – As rappers name-drop more and more labels, Ekow Eshun finds the true meaning of bling

The argument over causal links between pop culture and social behaviour is a well-rehearsed and inconclusive one. Yet it’s a debate that is tirelessly rehashed when it comes to rap music. Not long ago, David Blunkett and Kim Howells both denounced the dangerous effects on young people of songs by “macho idiot rappers” such as Jay-Z and So Solid Crew. more

A universal colour

New Statesman, 11 October 2004

Black culture – As the Victoria and Albert Museum launches a show examining black British style, Ekow Eshun wonders if such a thing still exists

Halfway round the array of hats, hairstyles and dresses on display in the V&A’s exhibition “Black British Style”, I realised the contradiction at the heart of the show. “Black” suggests a homogeneous identity defined by skin colour. “Style” is the antithesis of that notion: it is predicated on individuality. The truly stylish define themselves in opposition to the group. Think of, say, Oscar Wilde. Or, for that matter, many of the figures featured in this show. Here are images of rakish young men at blues parties; groups of girls in matching outfits at nightclubs; the drum’n'bass artist Goldie decked out in diamond rings and a mouthful of gold teeth. If all they have in common is the colour of their skin, then the V&A can’t claim to have curated the show at all, but has merely brought together an assortment of pictures and memorabilia. more

From Tarzan to Rambo

Tate Online, November 2003

When I first saw Sonia Boyce’s piece From Tarzan to Rambo, I was aware of a faint itching somewhere at the back of my head. I knew I was trying to remember something but I couldn’t think what. Images from her work stayed in my mind: the Thirties-style pickaninny child; the mohicaned savages in the bush; Boyce’s own face, by turns startled and reflective, sketched on paper and shot on film. A few days later the scratching in my head turned into what felt like a swarm of angry bees buzzing and clamouring for attention. Drawn back to the artwork I started to think about what Boyce had inscribed beneath the surface of the canvas. Two ostensibly disconnected names came to mind: Hegel and Tintin. more

Bond St to Brick Lane via Borough

New Statesman, 10 April 2000

London should stop selling faded pomp and circumstance to tourists and get modern. Ekow Eshun offers his personal itinerary

How is it that London chooses to advertise itself on the basis of its historic monuments rather than its vibrant contemporary culture? Millions of tourists arrive each year only to be herded like dumb cattle in the direction of Madame Tussaud’s, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. Little wonder that, despite vociferous attempts at rebranding, Britain is still seen from abroad as uptight, insular and tradition-bound. Capital-dwellers know that the London tourist’s visit, with its narratives of pageantry and past empire, bears little relationship to the complex, culturally diverse modern city in which they live and work. So what should be on the map for the discerning 21st-century tourist? more