"It is impossible to overstate the value of this masterclass both as a particular experience and in terms of the principles it represents"
"I left with a better sense of purpose and direction in my work and my role as an artist in the community within which I operate"
Chameleon was a two year programme of workshops and masterclasses developed by moti roti and the Live Art Development Agency to address the professional development needs of Black and Asian artists working with interdisciplinary performance practices.
Conceived to address gaps in existing provision, Chameleon offered a focused framework for culturally diverse practitioners to explore a range of approaches and skills and consider the issues impacting on their work. Chameleon aimed to inspire new ways of working by providing tailor made and specialised training programmes with exceptional practitioners, complemented by debates on issues of cultural representation led by eminent commentators.
Chameleon programmes were led by influential artists such as Mexican performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña, US theatre maker Robbie McCauley, British sound artist Scanner, British video artist Chris Dorley Brown and Irish digital artists desperate optimists. The series of cultural grounding sessions were facilitated by the accomplished artists, academics and curators Isaac Julien, Kobena Mercer and Gilane Tawadros.
Artists who participated in Chameleon programmes came from a diversity of artform backgrounds including theatre, music, poetry, dance, film, visual art and Live Art. Participants included the emergent artists Razia Aziz, Parm Kaur, Malika Booker, Qaseem Riza Shaheen and Delroy Williams alongside more experienced practitioners such as Kazuko Hohki, Ansuman Biswas, Dorothea Smartt, Barby Asante, Susan Lewis, Marque Gilmore and Vanessa Richards.
Chameleon invited participants to imagine new possibilities and new ways of working and the programmes have had a demonstrable impact. The younger artists have been inspired and encouraged to develop their own work, whilst several of the more accomplished artists have undertaken important creative transitions directly informed by their experiences.
Chameleon has contributed to the diversification and enrichment of professional artistic practices in Britain. It has had an impact on the development of a number of projects such as Qaseem Riza Shaheen’s Conversing with Angels (a Green Room/Method Lab commission), Malika Booker’s Abortion Stories and Razia Aziz’s Letters To Heaven.
Significant collaborations have also developed and continued from Chameleon. Dorothea Smartt was awarded a Live Art Development Agency bursary for a mentorship with Robbie McCauley. Malika Booker has continued collaborations with desperate optimists on their recent web projet Night Bus and Moti Roti invited Vanessa Richards to be a key collaborator on the Commonwealth Parade for the Golden Jubilee
Many artists who worked with the inspirational Guillermo Gómez-Peña continue to meet to discuss issues impacting on their practice. The Live Art Development Agency and moti roti are working with Guillermo’s Pocha Nostra on a major project to be presented at the Liverpool Biennial and Tate Modern. Kazuko Hohki and Ansuman Biswas will collaborate with Guillermo and his colleagues from Pocha Nostra on the performance installation Ex Centris (A Living Diorama of Fetish-ized Others).
As a strategy Chameleon has been welcomed by all participants as making a significant contribution to their artistic development and their ability to self determine their processes and practices. Artists of colour feel they are still carrying the burden of representation and are still expected to ‘perform their ethnicity’. Many training models tend to perpetuate the notion of the amateur rather than the professional artist with specialised professional development needs and, equally, the cross artform aspirations of their practices can be at odds with more conventional training strategies. Artists often feel that they are effectively excluded from artform specific training and particularly programmes that are not prepared to engage with issues of difference and diversity.
Chameleon has proven to be a successful model for supporting the artistic and professional development of Black and Asian artists working in interdisciplinary performance practices. It has been a highly effective initiative whose ripple effects continue to be felt across arts practices.
Chameleon has demonstrated the importance of investing in informed, responsive and specialised development programmes.
Chameleon has highlighted the need for a continuing commitment to such programmes if real differences and lasting legacies are to be made.
Funded through an Arts For Everyone Lottery Award, Chameleon was only a two year programme. Regrettably the initial support for Chameleon has not been continued on any significant or long term level by the Arts Council and the programme as such has been discontinued.
However, Chameleon has informed and inspired approaches to professional development for moti roti and the Live Art Development Agency and both organisations will continue to develop programmes and projects independently and collaboratively.
Banner image credit:
moti roti, image courtesy of the artists
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