PuSh festival – Thoughts on the cards

Photo by Manuel Vason

Selina Thompson’s exhibit, entitled Race Cards, will be an interactive and thought-provoking journey considering race, self-image and the way societies look at others and their ideals. The Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre’s PuSh festival will display the exhibit from Jan. 23 to Feb. 2.

Thompson intends to inspire, provoke and question with Race Cards. Focusing on a series of 1,000 questions written one by one, the artist seeks to interrogate one’s views about oneself and those they are surrounded by. The ideas displayed on the cards do not shy away from the tough conundrums that society faces in an increasingly multi-cultural world.

Attendees should expect to see cards like #220 that say, “My mum does not talk about race anymore. It makes her uncomfortable, tired. Will that happen to me?” Alongside that, #660 will say, “Who is more problematic: famous racist Nigel Farage or the liberal journalist politely asking him questions?”

The choice of name for the exhibit is an additional hurdle that Thompson sees as either “literal or subtle as a brick.”

“If we go with an ironic definition, then I guess it’s me taking an idiom that is typically used to disempower people of colour and using it as a title for an artwork that ultimately stands in solidarity with them, while challenging whiteness,” she says.

Still, other cards invoke a sense of contradiction and accusation by addressing the reader as the minority in question. For instance, #73 says, “I know that you are black, but why is that my fault?” Each card ushers the reader to view themselves and the wider world anew.

Cards against inner fallacies

Race Cards is an intense look at the world from a perspective or angle that is in some manners uncommon and too often unheard. The cards seemingly invite attendees to look again at their surroundings and respond to questions that they may have never needed to face, both within the venue and after they return home.

While some cards are introspective and address culture broodingly from a separate position, others look directly at the wider problem and demand an answer. For example, card #307 says, “Why do people assume that racism will passively die out if we just wait long enough?” Thompson is clear that she is inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, however, she does not mean to appropriate their work.

“Like many black people of my generation, the work, courage and integrity of Black Lives Matter engendered a profound shift in how I saw myself, my country, [how I] saw international solidarity [and] saw our history. It is referenced by name in the show, and I owe what I have learnt from that movement a huge debt,” Thompson says.

Books like A Map to the Door of No Return by Dionne Brand and The Heart of the Race: Black Women’s Lives in Britain by Beverley Bryce, Stella Dadzie and Suzanne Scafe have also lent themselves to the creation of this artist as a whole and provided major impetus to one of her previous works, Salt.

From the UK to traversing the world

Regarding her upbringing in the UK and how it influenced her, Thompson is both candid and playful.

“That’s a bit like asking me to describe what air looks like – I’ve always been immersed in it, so I have no idea what it’s like to not be surrounded by it. I’m a fan of tea, there’s that. I have the accent I have. In a thousand tiny ways, and not at all, I suppose that I think my perspective is unique and individual because of all the things that shape me, stacked on top of each other,” she says. “It’s what’s so exciting about art right? A thousand people could have made the works I’ve made and each one would be preciously unique, like a Fabergé egg. It makes me very happy.”

She is also unhesitant in acknowledging her fortune and the way that has sharpened her perspective.

“To be able to travel, to have access to discourse with multiple people in multiple contexts experiencing oppression in so many different ways is a massive privilege that I, for one, am lucky enough to have. But I do not want to judge those that do not have it for wanting to think about the immediate issues of their lives before they consider the whole globe,” she says.

In preparation for Salt, Thompson traveled along an old slavers route in a cargo ship, making key stops in Ghana and Jamaica, hearing and realizing the journey that would ultimately end a countless number of lives. In many ways, she believes Race Cards is both the heir and continuation of that journey and the work it birthed.

Confrontation and transformation

Race Cards is an entryway – or for some, a stop – along the path of those examining themselves in Western culture today. It is a bold dare to all that come to see it to grow past lines circumscribed by their personal history and the things unseen.

“The response to this work suggests to me that many people enter that installation complacent, and leave feeling challenged. It was work made by someone who moves in those spaces, to challenge people that move in those spaces,” Thompson says.