Questioning our roles at mac Birmingham

29 Jan 2015

My name is Sipho Eric Dube. Since May 2014 I’ve been involved in the mac Birmingham ARTIST ROOMS project.

I took part as a dancer and would eventually go on to lead my own event as part of the second phase of the project; inspired by the ARTIST ROOMS collection of works by Robert Therrien.

From the beginning, were two questions presented to the group who were all of varied creative backgrounds. ‘What is the role of the art gallery in young people’s lives? And what is the role of young people in art galleries?’.

A sudden sense of responsibility was suggested by the questions, and I was interested to explore the possible answers.

I considered what the responsibilities could entail, initially for the first question, looking at the role of the art gallery in young people’s lives. Such as to engage, change and adapt to the times so young people can feel as though the art gallery is relevant and accessible to them. Also to maybe facilitate their experience; there’s institutionalised reasons as to why the art gallery is ‘not liked’, so what can art gallery’s representatives do to allow young people to enjoy it for themselves?

Also, perhaps to accommodate a thinking space; present works that make us think, make us uncomfortable, open our minds, put us within the headspace of a civilian elsewhere in the world so we, through art can learn about how we think. Question what is, empathise or be angered by and connect to our depths and to others.

These where the possibilities I encountered through my own thought process. So I found it important to continue the discussion, hence the event that I would work to bring to mac birmingham, on September 3rd 2014.

Leading up to the event I also looked into the question of the role of young people in art galleries. I felt there to be less of a responsibility on our behalf; so I’ve since been exploring the idea of ‘being’ in an art gallery in order to challenge people of my generation. By ‘being’ I mean, for example, how could a dancer ‘be’ in an art gallery, be moved by a piece of work and so react as they best express, through dance. And how could an actor find the art gallery a space for character & thought development whilst exploring their inhibitions, likes, dislikes through art. What I am (and as this develops to workshops, would be) asking is how could you be who you are as an artist in an art gallery, and express in the way you feel most comfortable.

And how do we begin to accommodate this?

I had a great deal of focus on performance based artist yes, also on people who didn’t engage with the arts. I found an obstacle that hindered the open-ness of a gallery was the expectations that sometimes followed the thought of even attending. And because of this, overtime that thought would dwindle and rarely re-think itself.

And it was then I stumbled on a potential responsibility young people could hold. ‘To open up the art gallery’. And in doing so, scribed this following draft letter:

“To all art galleries who program events for young people; do as much as you can to test your assumptions. If you find you were wrong, then listen to what young people have to say, if you think you were right, listen to what young people have to say and if you haven’t even begun to assume ‘what young people could possibly want’, listen to what young people have to say; and let us work with you, you with us to shape what we need.”

I believe in the power of art; the art gallery is home to many opportunities and is a space where you can if not find and discover something new about yourself; a space where you can reaffirm a truth.