Black History Month: A Female Black Artist In Glasgow

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My name is Nina Mdwaba, I am a South African, Glasgow based student and performance artist. I’m currently in my third year of psychology and theatre joint honours. My medium includes dance and puppetry.

 What has been your experience on being a black woman in the arts in Glasgow?

I think being a black female artist in the general sense is beautiful, moving, and allows me to explore different avenues through the work I create. I love that I get to share stories from home and about my country, share African dance, music, puppetry and sculpture. I think art is one of those beautiful things that allows everyone, especially the voiceless and the oppressed, to share the beauty they see in the world, a world which can sometimes be a very ugly and dark place for us. Now, I think being a black female artist in Glasgow has its perks and its shortcomings. Firstly, I think the work that I have had the chance to collaborate on with other People of Colour (POC) artists has really been challenging, fun and at moments a little scarring. We share in an experience of not always feeling wanted, welcome or safe in places where we are the ethnic minority, so getting the chance to share that conversation through dance or movement or whatever, is beautiful. Now for the cons – My favourite thing to do is to join minds and collaborate with others, but I can definitely remember projects where collaborations didn’t quite work. I think one big issue that Glasgow’s art scene has, is a lack of POC artists and even more so, a lack of paid POC artists. I’ve been a part of a couple projects where, I don’t know if maybe it was just because I was young, but I was expected to put in something like six straight hours of work and I wasn’t given a cent. I have a couple of friends who have shared similar stories and were graduates. The worst projects are the ones that tokenize or fetishize black models and artists. Once I realised that that was happening, I stopped modelling. I was asked to be a part of a project where the artist asked to use my face and my hair, as well as to help them construct interview questions for a project they were working on involving black hair and black skin. I refused his offer once I realised that he was not interested in collaborating, but rather was asking me to help him with the project for free, and I thought why should I do all the work? I found it very odd that the project was about black women, but being led by a white man, speaking on the subject matter he knew nothing about. It was really upsetting and has since made me a little sceptical and wary of who I choose to collaborate with. Luckily, I’ve never been afraid to call these people out on it, but it can definitely be disheartening when the art is really real to you, especially the kind of socio-political subject matter I like to deal with. I would probably then say that the majority of the cons are a result of a lack of other black female artists in Glasgow. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a very talented handful, but I would love to see more in future. I crave more representation and more inclusion of black artists, without causing a dynamic where certain events and galleries have to specifically call out for black artist or artists of colour, I think that is rubbish. I feel that the way things are running currently creates this weird kind of quota system. You almost start to question your ability as a performer, artists etc. I’ve found myself sometimes questioning, whenever I’m offered new work if “they” are really interested in me/my work or if I just help “them” fill out some diversity quota, and I think that’s sad.

Is there any project that you are working on or have been working on recently?

My most recent performance was at the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) for the launch of Black History Month in Glasgow. I performed ‘NdinguNina’, which I previously performed at Transmission before summer this year. It’s a very personal piece for me, that speaks of fairly unpleasant racial situations I’ve found myself in over the years, so getting to perform it at Black History Month was very emotional. And even though the GoMA holds such an oppressive history, I must admit that both the space and event was beautiful. I keep joking that it was my revenge performance.

What is the typical process you take for creating a piece of art?

The format or structure I like to work in actually lacks exactly that, structure (well at least in the traditional sense). I like to devise pieces from scratch, I hardly ever use a script but I do like to respond to situations, articles, the news and music; that’s where I get my inspiration. I like movement and music over speech, but I try to incorporate dialogue if it fits in with the piece. Sometimes it’s very physical and sometimes I have a lot to say. A lot of the time I start with a simple thought, write it down in my journal and let it grow from there; adding sketches and notes where I can.

Do you have a target audience for your work, and what do you hope to achieve from it?

I don’t think I can really tell you who my audience is because there isn’t a single person I would turn away from my performances. I think everyone has the opportunity to learn something new, young, old, black, white, whomever, so it’s really whoever is willing to listen.

Questions by David Nkansah and words by Nina Mdwaba 


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