THE WORD Where are non-western artists in contemporary galleries?

Faiza Butt is a Pakistani artist whose work is held in private and public collections including the British Museum and the Kiran Nadar Museum, Delhi

From the works of Matisse and Turner to Picasso and Van Gough, the history of art has traditionally been dictated by a strong western patriarchal narrative. The term “modern art” has come to define the innovative and even revolutionary developments in western visual arts and paintings in the late 19thand early 20thcentury. But what about other paths to modernism? Far too little appreciation is given to the artistic developments that were happening outside the scope of North America and Europe.

With non-white artists conspicuously absent from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s modern art section and women representing just 35 percent of all artists featured at the Venice Biennale, it is a trend that’s still very prominent.

The art world, then, which is expected to be the champion of alternative perspectives and liberal ways of thinking, is overlooking the very essence of what it should represent. Equality.

Throughout my career I have found that the art world favours male artists, with female and non-western counterparts often passed by. I have witnessed many extremely gifted and extremely talented individuals give up on their passion due to a financial hardship, a lack of opportunity and a lack of support during parenthood. The result is a significant loss of expression and talent within the art world.

This situation can only move forward if substantial steps are taken to celebrate and support marginalised artists on a global platform. This is where foundations such as The Stellar International Art Foundation play a crucial role. Giving artists in the diaspora a platform to showcase their work, art foundations can trigger key debates and raise the parapet of contemporary non-western practice in the art world.

Artists are ultimately social commentators. By denying non-western and female artists a platform to express themselves through their artistic talent, we are subconsciously restricting our cultural gaze and understanding. Artists bring unique angles to pools of debates influenced by their backgrounds and experiences. Their work addresses imbalances that mark the wider social set up and enrich visions across societies.

Non-western artists in particular bring a unique vision and sensory experience to the debate of human condition. Their absence from museums and galleries means that a great deal of knowledge remains overlooked, with key discussions on cultural parameters and gender parity lacking perspective. It is crucial that we work to raise the profile of contemporary non-western practice so that it becomes more than a footnote in the grander narrative of contemporary art 

Tate is one institution championing this shift. Traditionally a centre of modern contemporary art with a strong western patriarchal narrative, the gallery is now openly accepting that there were multiple narratives to modern art. With the appointment of diasporic curators and directors, the hope is that the profile of contemporary non-western practice in the art world will finally gain the recognition it deserves and trigger broader societal changes 

Progression does not happen in a bubble. Culture is an open system – it grows as we think, speak and act. Art should represent a range of emotional elements that audiences can relate to and learn from. A solely western patriarchal narrative only restricts or even hinders this development.





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