Race Cards is a room containing 1000 questions about race. You’re invited to answer one of them.
Developed by the artist over a duration of 21 hours at the Edinburgh Festival as part of the Buzzcut programme for Forest Fringe, the walls of this murky 10 x 10 ft. space are covered with white cards neatly arranged in rows with small bulldog clips. There is a table in the middle with a desk lamp that provides limited light.
The questions on the cards address the me in a mixture of styles from academic to conversational through pop culture and jokes. Some expand on a theme, running across 3 or 4 cards. They ask things like; Why do people assume that racism will just passively die out if we wait long enough? Are you angry? When does it all end? Who is more problematic – famous racist Nigel Farage, or the liberal journalist politely asking him questions? What if you are a black person who can’t dance (asking for a friend)?
Because of the dark I had to kneel to see the bottom row of cards and stand on tiptoe to read the top ones. The table lamp is a shock to my eyes after straining to read cards in the dark corners. She is asking me to think AND do, but in such a sensible way that I can’t not do as I’m asked.
The gentle way Selina Thompson asks her questions allows space for an internal dialogue. C’mon, she says, where do you actually stand on this? As a rule we are not really allowed to talk about identity in public even though there are plenty of references to colour or ethnicity on the streets and on TV. It’s a thing. A marker of who you are and where you come from. But asking impertinent questions is generally a no no.
This piece of work has a rational authority about it and even though she is not in the room with you, the artist manages to manifest herself by using a language style and physical environment that magic her into being. She’s there next to me, whispering (in a non creepy way), asking me what I think. Sometimes I can answer and sometimes I can’t.
Sometimes I’m not interested other times I don’t understand her references. But my lack of understanding is of no real importance because the experience is the point. We don’t have to understand everything to participate in this conversation and this piece certainly asks difficult questions. The ones which don’t translate easily into entertainment or spectacle. These questions are the important ones.
Race Cards is part of the project As Wide And As Deep As The Sea exploring Black British Identity: how it is defined, the declining visibility of Black culture within the UK, and an analysis of where discourse currently stands.
Inbetween Time 2017 IBT17 at Arnolfini, Bristol, BS1 4QA