Haramacy: a powerful initiative and safe space for minority artists

Haramacy promo artists

“hip’ o-crit: An art collector who buys white male art at benefits for liberal causes, but never buys art by women or artists of colour.” This is the definition of a hypocrite by the ‘Guerilla Girls’, an anonymous group of feminist, female artists formed in New York City in 1985 to fight sexism and racism within the art industry. The statement printed in a bold font not just grabs eyeballs in the Tate Modern, London, where it hangs on the wall in a neat frame; but also defines the reality of minority art showcased in the UK today.

The art world for long has been dominated by white cis male artists, with minority representations either being absent, tokenised or victimised. The latest study by Arts Council England shows the lack of diversity in the art industry. According to the report, ‘art by BAME artists makes up less than a third of the Tate Modern’s permanent collection, and non-white artists are visibly absent from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s modern/contemporary art section.’ It further suggests that the ‘most commonly reported barriers to arts and cultural participation among black and minority ethnic people are the cost of attending or participating, inability to find funding and concerns about feeling out of place.’

Unfortunately, the inequalities in the art world hardly come as a surprise. They mimic the trends of almost all creative and academic industries that have been shackled with racial and sexist bias. It is only with the advent of digital and social media platforms that young independent artists from ethnic minorities and diasporic groups of colour are finding platforms and access to an audience. Using art to protest identity politics and make their voice not only heard but also acknowledged, artists from marginalised communities are making an impact — through independent diasporic media, from zines to YouTube channels, street art to performances.

One such interesting artistic initiative thriving in London is ‘Haramacy’, a multi-arts program that brings together Middle Eastern, North African and South Asian artists with the aim of engaging them in cross-cultural collaboration that explores their shared experiences and challenges as immigrants. One way that this initiative operates is through 4-day residencies that bring a range of artists, from musicians to graphic designers to poets and more together to collaborate on interdisciplinary works of art. The residencies culminate with a one-day festival that showcases the produced artwork alongside facilitating interactions with various artists.

Founded by Zahed Sultan, a multimedia artist of Indian-Kuwaiti heritage who moved to London three years ago; Haramacy has been one of the few spaces that have explored the intersectionality of issues of race, class, gender, sexuality etc through collaborative art. Last year’s festival saw powerful performances, from a song that mocked British-Asian stereotypes to a speech about being bullied in an all-white school. Haramacy was founded to create a more inclusive space and cross-cultural engagement for artists to study social systems.  This spirit is well found in its name. ‘Haram’ which in Arabic means ‘indecent’ or ‘forbidden’ and the suffix comes from the English word ‘pharmacy’. Like pharmacy is a place to heal, Haramacy serves to be a safe space for artists where they can heal themselves of societal ailments.

For ages, art has been used as a tool and a weapon to define identity and resist majoritarianism. Echoing this sentiment, project coordinator of Haramacy, Georgia Beeston says that, “Art can be used not just to increase awareness but also empathy. It has the power to be accessible and engage people from different walks of life in socio-political dialogue. With Haramacy, we want to strengthen the power of art to create participation and communication that is inclusive.”

Haramacy Festival 2019 - artists
Image credit: Melanie Wetter

Following up with this, Haramacy is all set to come to SOAS.  Hosted by the SOAS Students Union, the event will constitute interesting ‘fishbowl discussions’ on the power of multimedia art and artists from minority communities. The format of the event would be such that the audience would be able to participate and share their views.

The first discussion will be on ‘The Rise of Mental Health in BAME Communities’ delivered by Noor Palette, a broadcaster, DJ and a film producer focusing on the themes of culture, gender and home. She is also the Senior Features Editor of Azeema Magazine. The second talk will be about ‘Making the Invisible Visible; Overcoming Identity Politics’ facilitated by Nouf Alhimiary, a multi-media artist and PhD candidate in Culture, Communication and Media at UCL who uses collectivity and fiction to interrogate the fluctuating links between intimacy, technology, culture, gendered subject formation, and alterity. Both artists were part of Haramacy’s 2019 residency.

“Several SOAS students have been part of Haramacy’s residence programmes. Given the diversity of the students and their critical engagement in humanities, SOAS felt like the natural place to have this event,” states Georgia Beeston.

The event will take place on Wednesday, March 18th at 7pm (Room RG01). This event is free but requires registration. Please follow this link for more details.

More details on Haramacy and their upcoming 2020 festival can be found on their social media.

Devyani Nighoskar is a 24-year-old SOAS Digital Ambassador from India. A former journalist, she is currently pursuing her M.A in Critical Media and Cultural Studies. You may check out her work on Instagram @runawayjojo