Culture is by nature diverse. Diversity, or some would propose hybridity, is the lifeblood of culture. I am speaking of diversity as a condition inherently within cultures and not simply of the obvious differences between them. Apparently this fact needs to be recalled. And for good reason, since the officially sanctioned policy of cultural diversity at present confuses the issue of whose culture is being differentiated. The notion of cultural diversity in its current administrative form does not rightly acknowledge that culture within itself is already an assemblage of differences, diverse tendencies and unresolved tensions, but is instead focused primarily on the strains of separation between cultures. I should emphasise that in this view of cultural diversity the strains of disquieting difference come from the ‘ethnic minority’ cultures, those unsettled and problematic guests in the midst of the host mainstream culture. Mainstream, of course, meaning Western, European and pre- dominantly white; and mainstream also implicitly presuming itself wholly unified and homogeneous. Diversity from this viewpoint is disruptive, an upset of status quo normality, which must somehow be governed so that the mainstream culture can function undisturbed by any threat of ‘difference’ from the inside.
Let us be clear. Cultural diversity is a meaningless tautological expression. It tells us nothing but that cultures differ. Something other is hidden behind this mere description. The empty formulation of cultural diversity disguises a prescriptive conduct. We can understand cultural diversity as a sort of foreign policy intended for domestic application. Perhaps this way of looking at it will bring strikingly home to us the question: why is there an officially differentiated category of diverse cultures for some citizens who are undeniably in the fabric of British society? Some of us in Britain are being cast as outsiders who require a domestically engineered foreign policy. The question profoundly concerns the integrity of British society which is determined by its own complex historical heritage of diversity. Diversity within culture is inescapablewhoever, for whatever reason, is adding to make it so because it is living history; and as Jean-Paul Sartre observes, if history seems to escape me it ‘is not because I do not make it; it is because the other is making it as well'.1
It is not true that History appears to us an entirely alien force. Each day with our own hands we make it something other than what we believe we are making it, and History, backfiring, makes us other than we believe ourselves to be or to become.2
Cultural diversity, such as it is confronted by the writers of this Report, is a managerial formula, an institutional agenda, and, most pertinently, an instrument of governance. Cultural diversity is what happens to culture when it becomes a sector of politics. Someone might justly remark: ‘But was it not always so? When has culture not been hostage to the state?’ It is not my brief in this introduction to un- ravel when, how and why things have changed into the recognisably contemporary predicament of culture, indeed a situation that I am tempted to call postcultural. The eight writers contributing to our Report will diagnose the specifics of that cultural condition. I shall limit myself to a few remarks.
The first thing to note is that visual art serves as the Report’s reference paradigm. And the reference is chiefly to modernist British art produced after World War II as the example that best illustrates the issue of cultural diversity. Visual art has not been chosen because it is deemed more important than literature, theatre, film, music and dance, but rather because of the peculiarly highlighted position that visual art has come to occupy in the culture market. Contemporary visual art is stalked by a larger number of cultural entrepreneurs and grey eminences than any other artcritics, gallerists, dealers and auctioneers, curators, museum functionaries and so on – and has been swiftly transformed into a global lingua franca advanced by an astounding proliferation of biennales everywhere in the world and often in its least likely corners. No other art is so indissolubly wedded to ‘Private Public Partnerships’, otherwise said, a Janus interface of the commercial market and publicly funded arts management. The purpose of this suspect union is to instrumentalise art. State cultural policy seeks to gear the arts sector to the Private Public Partnership mechanisms common in the transport and health industries. This is not a collocation resulting merely from fiscal practicalities but a strategic objective of neoliberal governance determined to implement a programme of equalisation. We know it flagged by the user-friendly watchwords, social inclusion, popular access, quality of life, accountability and other such desirables in which artists are ensnared by the imperative of civic obligation. Never before have we seen anything so bizarre as the fate of art yoked to reinvigorating the economy and purveying stimulation to the labour market.3 This is the predicament in which art finds itself and it parallels that of culture. Awareness of cultural co-option is another reason why art is of special interest to us. Artists were long ago alerted to the snares of instrumentalisation and went through every manner of self-lacerating contortions to ‘out’ themselves from the clutches of institutions and art market commodification. Conceptual Art seems to me partly explicable as the attempts of artists to turn themselves into escapologists. To no avail. The American critic, activist and curator Lucy Lippard declared 1966 to 1972 the interim period of Conceptual Art in her account of it. Some diffident hope was then invested in Conceptualism’s ‘dematerialised art’, an art idea, as Lippard states, transportable ‘in the artist himself’ but inapplicable to any art object that travels ‘outside him’ at the mercy of institutional transactions. But it did not take long for her to see that the hopes in Conceptualism had been largely unfounded.
It seemed in 1969... that no one, not even a public greedy for novelty, would actually pay money, or much of it, for a Xerox sheet referring to an event past or never directly perceived, a group of photographs documenting an ephemeral situation... a project for work never to be completed... it seemed that these artists would therefore be forcibly freed from the tyranny of a commodity status and market-orientation. Three years later, the major con- ceptualists are selling work for substantial sums here [in America] and in Europe...4
Lippard’s disquiet was an early warning of the supra-national culture market expanding at speed into the 1980s and 90s to the present day of recessionary crisis. Gerald Raunig, co-director of eipcp (European Institute for Progressive Culture in Vienna), comments bitterly on the ‘perversion of emancipatory practices of the 1970s’. Thereafter the field of cultural policy was opened to ‘neoliberal govern- mentality’ in which ‘participation is obligatory, creativity becomes an imperative, transparency becomes total surveillance, life-long learning turns into a threat, education means permanent social control, and grassroots democracy means developing software that applicants for cultural funding can use to evaluate each other’.5 A terrifying indictment of our slippage into an institutionalist mentality. It is surely significant that Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest became a cult classic in the era of ‘emancipatory practices’ and the film version earned five Oscars in 1975. But the anti-hero of Cuckoo’s Nest does not escape the long reach of the mental institution. For, just as the ancient Chinese story relates, the monkey cannot jump out of Buddha’s hand, so too the artist cannot succeed to evade insti- tutional entrapment. Which does not mean that artists will ever cease striving to do so. The constancy of such endeavours is what dynamically shapes art that probes foresightedly into the future. And this too is the value of art for us: its diagnostic capacity to recognise social failures, as Jean Fisher puts it in her essay, ‘often before political culture is aware of them.
Conceptualism has left us its legacy of institutional critique. The practice of institutional critique was pioneered at the very zenith of Conceptualism by artists themselves. Among them usually credited with its inauguration are Michael Asher, Robert Smithson, Daniel Buren, Hans Haacke, and Marcel Broodthaers.6 What readers will find in the pages of our Report is a subsequent phase of institutional critique which has reached us in two successive waves, the second coming in the late 1980s into the 1990s, and this Third Text Report which itself sits on the crest of a third wave. In that period of forty or so years, institutional critique has per- colated diversely through to other workers in the art field, to critics, theorists and curators, and has also become something of an established academic practice. The capillary dispersion of institutional critique was present from the start, going back for instance to the Art Workers’ Coalition (AWC), a protest movement in 1969 in America which included Robert Morris, Carl Andre, Hans Haacke, Lucy Lippard and other prominent artists and theorists enlisted from Minimalism and Conceptualism whose ‘13 Demands’ jointly targeted aims for practical artists’ rights, museum reform, the representation of women and black artists, and the campaign for cessation of war in Vietnam.
Andrea Fraser, an influential American artist and critic whose career began in the 1980s’ second wave of institutional critique, believes that a critical shift to the amalgamation of art and curatorial practices had its start with the AWC in 1969. What began as the AWC’s confrontation with the institutional power of MoMA (Museum of Modern Art in New York) and its apparently monolithic façade quick- ly gained nuance as artists and curatorial staff found common cause in their ‘struggles for autonomy from the controlling interests of museum trustees and managers’.7 Parallel forms of collaboration were emerging at the same time in the work of Lucy Lippard, ‘a key member of the AWC who began organising exhibitions of conceptual art almost as early as Seth Siegelaub and Harald Szeeman’. The point is that artistic practices of a conceptual nature and curatorial strategies developed hand in hand but ‘from a position that was very critical of museums and galleries, of the market, and the power of trustees and museum managers’. This is what I want to get across – the alignment of neoavantgarde art with entrepreneurial subsidiary support that might not look like management at all, at first. An uneasy seesaw relationship has prevailed ever since between the aims of artistic autonomy and the sectors of arts administration. It cannot be denied that art is embroiled in the ‘culture industry’ shaped by the twinning of market forces and state policy, the very essence of neoliberal capitalism, bonded to Private Public Partnerships. Fraser, in the 2005 interview from which I have quoted, asks:
We’ve had a hundred years of the avant-garde, we’ve had forty years of institutional critique – where are we? We’re in the midst of the total corporatisation and marketisation of the artistic field and the historic loss of autonomy won over the course of over a century of struggle.8
Where indeed are we? I find it telling that in the same year, 2005, Fraser published an article in Artforum, ‘From the Critique of Institutions to the Institution of Cri- tique’, whose title speaks volumes.
Just as art cannot exist outside the field of art, we cannot exist outside the field of art, at least not as artists, critics, curators, etc. And what we do outside the field, to the extent that it remains outside, can have no effect within it. So if there is no outside for us, it is not because the institution is perfectly closed, or exists as an apparatus in a ‘totally administered society’, or has grown all-encompassing in size and scope. It is because the institution is inside us, and we can’t get outside of ourselves.9
To hear this sour note from a long-time activist may be dispiriting; but I think it salutary to take stock of ourselves and reply with considered humility to Fraser’s challenge. Is there ‘an outside ourselves’ from which to gain leverage on institutional closure? Our contributors have not in the least surrendered to pessimism while being perfectly aware that cultural diversity has been in operation almost as long as institutional critique, since 1976, when Naseem Khan’s report, The Arts Britain Ignores, first offered our cultural institutions an insight into the alienated ‘ethnic minorities’ of this country. Cultural diversity came to supplant its failed antecedent, multiculturalism, and is proving a more intractable stumbling-block. Did it ever dawn on anyone that multiculturalism was in the first place already a tautological definition of culture? It must be said again and again that ‘cultural diversity’ as such is not the problem but the policy is that isolates artists of ‘diverse cultural backgrounds’ in ghettos apart from the mainstream of British art. What happens in the artworld institution is a responsive mirror of what is dramatised in society. Fragmentation, in a word, is what occurs. Deliberate fragmentation which results from a policy of disturbingly near-likeness to cultural apartheid. Diversity is not – and can never be – the same as equality but only a segregationist hindrance to it.
Third Text has been unwavering in its resistance to the separatist agencies of multiculturalism and its cultural diversity metamorphosis. This is largely due to the efforts of Rasheed Araeen, an artist who has certainly never tired of combating artworld institutionalism, who pioneered British Minimalism in the mid-1960s, and since then land and water art, performance art, and so on, and whose origination of Third Text twenty-three years ago can be said an art form extended by other means. At the heart of Araeen’s discourse in these pages is a clear and simple message that is being ignored and, he would be inclined to argue, wilfully suppressed. It is this. The exclusion of so-called ethnic minority artists from the mainstream British artworld is not and was never the burning issue. Artists of Asian, African Caribbean and African origins were never in need of the dire remedial treatment bestowed on them by a cultural diversity policy that has been anything but benign in diverting attention away from recognition of their decisive role in the modernist avant-garde of post-war British art. The exclusion that cultural diversity perpetrates is that of not writing them into mainstream art history. The burning issue is an in- tegral ‘whole story’ history that can do well by starting with the correction of that exclusion as a first step towards a Britain of truly multicultural heritage for all our benefit. Institutional critique will not progress beyond entrapment in its own ever- proliferating and sterile ‘institution of critique’ if it does seize hold of art history and (re)write it inclusively.
In my view it is no coincidence that Araeen’s independent and long engaged struggle with the artworld establishment echoes that of the Minimalist and Concep- tual artists I named earlier as founders of institutional critique. This is because, in his own maverick way, he too inaugurated a potent form of it in Britain. An entire pre-history leading to this Third Text Report began in Araeen’s four-stage initiatives: the ‘Black Manifesto’ in 1975–1976; the journal Black Phoenix in 1978; the Black Umbrella organisation in 1984; and Third Text in 1987. Those curious to acquaint themselves with that history should consult the Black Umbrella archive online at www.thirdtext.com.
It must be emphasised however – and Araeen would the first to recognise – that he was not alone in his enterprise but building on another legacy crucially lacking from the phases of institutional critique developed outside Britain. The artists of Asian, African Caribbean and African origins who participated in the creation of avant-garde modernism in postwar Britain by so doing were dealing a death blow to the institution of Eurocentricity at the very heart of an exclusionist mainstream. The usual challenge of institutional critique had been aimed at emancipating art from entrapment in managerialism and art market forces, which is undeniably important, but what occurred in British art in the 1950s and 60s took a decisive step towards overturning Western segregationist history and demonstrating the results of artistically productive cultural diversity. ‘Look’, it is saying to us, ‘this is an example of what an integrated society can do.’ This uniquely British heritage must not be lost to an ethnically divisive notion of cultural diversity that perverts the future integrated course of creativity.
Is there ‘an outside ourselves’ that uniquely benefits Third Text’s perspective? Of course not. Third Text has maintained its critical autonomy in spite of – but admittedly, also because of – funding by the Arts Council and a commercial agreement with Routledge, and is therefore an instance of the Private Public Partnership world in which we live and against which we must resolutely contend. Our contributors too are each positioned in various degrees of proximity to the central institutional core. (Their biographies are listed at the end of the book.) This is hardly a surprise since the Report is composed by workers in the art, education and administration fields addressing their colleagues in those same precincts, and beyond them to interested members of the public who have no professional link to these sectors. Our common cause is made against the instrumentalisation of culture that reduces it to a corporate service industry.
The handwriting is on the wall, legible to us all at this time of recessionary crisis. Punishing cuts to public sector arts funding on the government’s budgetary agenda will undermine the health of British culture not only in the immediate present but for future generations. We are facing what Sir Nicholas Serota, Director of the Tate, has called a ‘cultural recession’, unmistakably scheduled by the gov- ernment’s plans to ‘rescue’ the deficit British economy, and we must act at once under inescapable emergency conditions to install new creative partnerships in the public arts sector that are based on a proper understanding and implementation of cultural diversity. But we will not produce such countervailing partnerships unless our efforts are directed by a vision of cultural solidarity, that is to say, a socially integrative cultural diversity that severs itself critically, radically and decisively from the past government version.
Action, mobilised by a bold and farsighted partnership programme of cultural diversity, is the underlying message of our Report. We do not seek to impose a monolithic voice on the writers of this Report; but our contributors are all in accord that something must urgently be done to construct a new art history for Britain. Our aim is to achieve what philosophers of science call consilience, a convergence of different sets of facts, drawn together in common pursuit of truth. There are four main sections to this Report. The first, apart from the Preface by Tony Panayiotou and my Introduction which put the Report in context, includes an introductory essay by Rasheed Araeen, ‘Cultural Diversity, Creativity and Modernism’, that substantially advances the case for creativity, and it does so on the basis of a genuine, legitimate model of cultural diversity already in practice in Britain over half a century ago but until now ignored. Readers will encounter some British artists either for the first time, or with whom they are insufficiently acquainted, of Asian, African Caribbean and African origins who practised ‘cultural diversity’ in their contributions to postwar British modernism – but who would never have accepted the terminology of cultural diversity as a true expression of their art.
The Report thereafter falls into two complementary sections. The first in brief provides the reader with an overview of the history of cultural diversity and, as will become clear, that which is is essentially missing from the official and dam- aging policy of cultural diversity. The section opens with Rasheed Araeen’s ‘Ethnic Minorities, Multiculturalism and the Celebration of the Postcolonial Other’, a passionately articulated experience of being a so-called ‘ethnic minority’ artist in Britain in the early 1970s. This unhappy experience set him thinking about the deep-structured injustices of exclusion prevailing in the British establishment view of art history that the policies of multiculturalism and cultural diversity have suc- ceeded to disguise ever since the 1970s.
The other contribution to this section by Jean Fisher, Research Associate at Middlesex University and Course Tutor at the Royal College of Art, is an equally impassioned account of cultural diversity in its historical perspective. Her essay, ‘Cultural Diversity and Institutional Policy’, guides us through a maze of reports on cultural diversity, tracing them from Naseem Khan’s classic to UNESCO’s 2001 guidelines, among others to date, and exposes their contradictory and often suspect endorsements. She concludes that artistic practices are not reducible to the institutional contexts in which they function.
The next section takes aim at the various flawed aspects of cultural diversity policy that have impacted on community relations in Britain, but also looks ahead with due critical caution to a brighter future for Britain’s cultural integration.
The four essays in this section begin with Roshi Naidoo’s ‘Diversity after Diversity’, an uncompromising indictment of the confusions wreaked by cultural diversity that have riven the ethnic communities. Naidoo, an independent Arts and Heritage consultant, provides a welcome and plain-speaking address to sector workers who are often silently frustrated by the top-down policies that they have to implement. Her sensible advice will refresh them in their pursuit of realisable goals.
Victoria Walsh, Head of Public Programmes at Tate Britain, and her co-writers Andrew Dewdney, Professor of Educational Development at London South Bank University, and David Dibosa, curator and researcher at Wimbledon College of Art, have worked jointly through their institutions on a three-year AHRC-funded investigation on cultural diversity. Their essay, ‘Cultural Inequality, Multicultural Nationalism and Global Diversity’, is a summary of that project and offers some unexpected insights into the hotly contested areas of public access, education and the navigation of postmodern culture.
Art education and art history are two pillars on which to build Britain’s new edifice of cultural integration. Leon Wainwright’s essay, ‘Art (School) Education and Art History’, supplies an in-depth review of the troubled mismatch between cultural diversity and art history in this millennium’s first decade. Wainwright is a professional educationalist in art history at Manchester Metropolitan University whose findings, extracted from working at the coal face, so to speak, counterpoint Rasheed Araeen’s report, ‘What is Art Education?’, commissioned by the Visual Forum of the Greater London Council (GLC) in 1985. Araeen’s report highlighted the disaster that can befall the black art student in the institutional teaching of art history:
The effect can be illustrated by the experience of a Pakistani artist who was a postgraduate student at the Slade School of Art (University College) in 1956. At that time Professor Ernst Gombrich taught art history there, based on his famous book, The Story of Art. He came to a chapter on Islamic art and finished the whole thing in five minutes. His summary dismissal of al- most one thousand years of Islamic art had such a shattering effect on Anwar Jalal Shemza, who still lives in Britain, that he went home and destroyed all his work. (Shemza is one of the founders of the modern art movement in Pakistan.)10
Araeen’s recommendations to the Greater London Council in 1985, never implemented it must be evident, prompt the question: ‘What has changed?’ Well, one answer is, ‘it has become a whole lot more complicated since 1985.’ Has it, really? Or is it simple fact that ‘what has to be done’ has not changed but become hopelessly complexified beyond recognition? Wainwright unravels this incremental ‘density’ obscuring the issue of art education.
This section closes with a contribution from Hassan Mahamdallie, Senior Strat- egy Officer, Arts Council of England. His essay, ‘Breaking the Code – New Approaches to Diversity and Equality in the Arts’, stretches our inquiry beyond the visual art paradigm by visiting other areas of diversity, in particular by instancing the issue of disability and awakening the theatre sector to its long neglect of avantgarde black dramatists.
Conclusion: What is to be Done?’, in the fourth and final section, is a set of propositions in the form of a 10-point programme intended as a platform for re- search, public debate and a rallying call to all workers in the public arts sector.
I want to end by spelling out the awkward question haunting the writers of this Third Text Report. Does anyone know any more what is the use of the word culture? I don’t only mean the promiscuous misusage of that word but the obscured extent of its agency. I think one should be wary of the function that culture can serve to disguise from us. Culture is insistently preached as ‘good’. Good for what? Good for whom? Whose culture? What exactly are you being sold? Culture is now both a fetish and a commodity, and these two are assimilations of each other, as Marx long ago made clear. Ideology inevitably infringes on culture and contrives it, no matter how ‘natural’ culture might seem. I would go further and say that whatever is ‘naturalised’ as a given state of being is in effect ideology. Do we not often see culture reduced to a given state of what is taken for granted – with all its consequent pernicious effects? Culture is nothing of the sort if it succumbs to a nature that exists nowhere but in one’s own head.
The vital element of culture is imaginative striving, always dissatisfied with self-justifying complacency; always looking toward being other than one is merely given to be in this lifeworld. Sartre has otherness in aim when he says that our needs, our passions, our most abstract thoughts are ‘always outside of themselves toward...’ (his emphasis).11 Toward what? A project that goes beyond the condi- tions pre-given to us. Existence does not mean ‘a stable substance which rests in itself, but rather a perpetual disequilibrium, a wrenching away from itself with all its body’.12 What does culture purport, then? ‘The world is outside; language and culture are not inside the individual like stamps registered by his nervous system. It is the individual who is inside culture and inside language; that is, inside a special section of the field of instruments.’13
If culture is not ‘in’ us, is not an essentially inhering and restrictive loop from which we cannot escape, then it must have some potentially elective margin of freedom or optative dimension, a ‘wish for the Other than oneself’, as Sartre puts it. Perhaps a guiding principle can be derived from this idea of freedom. Culture can be judged healthy to the degree in which it permits elective exception to itself, and indeed encourages it to flourish, in the realisation that difference is of indis- pensable benefit to culture. And culture can best realise its inward diverse potential by interfacing with dissimilar others. Does this actually ever happen? Often, but it is ignored or misconstrued. I think it is the weight of Araeen’s argument that the restrictive bonds of one culture can be loosened by creative encounter with another to spark an exceptional freedom of the artistic imagination, as it did with the modernist avant-garde in the first decades of the twentieth century, and as it did again in the 1950s and 1960s of modern British art. This rubbing together of diverse cultures allows the imagination to detach itself from either or any of those cultures and thereby create something new and of beneficial resource to the cultures from which the artist has seemingly floated free. I say seemingly because artistic autonomy can never be supposed absolute. However, the artist’s chief constraint is less that of culture than of indebtedness to history, a pact which the artist has no choice but to sign. It should be understood that the artist’s agreement with history is not backward looking to the past but a forecasting of the future.
The writers of this Report advocate their ‘creative case’ on the basis of a forecast future, beyond the conditional terms of cultural diversity, toward a future-shaped hole in the present. And on that basis of futurity the elective emancipation of artistic imagination is an archetype, a motivational pattern, for a truly integrated British society and for the cultural renewal of all humanity. Policy-makers in the arts sec- tor will I hope take enlightenment from this Report to admit the fresh air of future inclusivity into the present.