Wu Tsang: Under Cinema at FACT

Wu Tsang, Under Cinema, 2017. Image by Jon Barraclough

The biggest issue that the arts sector faces right now is lack of diversity, and FACT seeks to address this through the umbrella season of Refuge.  ‘Safe spaces’ are vital, but very difficult to put into practice. A current popular buzz term adopted by the more ambitious of cultural venues and underground nights, we must ensure that it becomes something in practice, rather than falling at the wayside like an empty promise.

One person’s liberation from sexual identity, orientation, and social norms is relative to their own privilege, and without any consideration into race there is no point. These conversations are vital and belong in the public forum, and works like Tsang’s Under Cinema (2017) address this.

Presented as a two screen documentary film which follows the musician Kelela, Under Cinema is a small step away from Tsang’s usual trademark magic realism, but don’t let this put you off. Kelela’s growing reputation has shot to even bigger heights after the release of her heavily anticipated second album, Take Me Apart (2017). Tsang follows Kelela as she develops the album in the lead up to its release – with shots from Abbey Road Studios to playing Afropunk, snippets of her personal Instagram and photoshoots for the album artwork.

Tsang intersects the glamour of Kelela’s album development and release with the singer’s powerful and revealing commentary on the music industry, “So much of pop music is built on black music. In part, it’s coming from a painful experience. In pop, people are connecting to the sound of pain without actually processing the people’s pain that it is coming from.”

Kelela describes the interplay of forging her own identity as a queer woman of colour within a music industry that is built on the “currency of culture”. This site-specific commission from FACT is hosted within the awkwardly shaped Gallery 2. Quite literally staged underneath a cinema, visitors sit upon tiered seating and watch Kelela’s journey as she meticulously works and re-works her album, describing how the music industry has tried to “attach” itself to “black culture to seem relevant”. The space offers the ideal venue for the artwork; it is small and ordered, much like the insular music industry it reflects.

Downstairs visitors step into another world in We hold where study (2017). Technically stunning and emotionally unrelenting, this is art that makes you feel. Through compressed bodies and a reverberating saxophone, Tsang presents a film essay with five chapters as homage to Fred Moten’s essay, Leave Our Mikes Alone. This is a beautiful portrayal of blackness, transness and queerness that uses movement to move you.

Under Cinema presents vital conversations into representation and safe spaces to promote inclusive forums across race, sexuality and identity. Inclusive environments rely on diversity and recognising your own privilege when determining what constitutes as ‘safe’; whether that be the racist grounding of the music industry or the lack of representation of the queer community in galleries. Artists like Tsang encourage you to think outside of your own safe space, and consider others. This is what makes her work so poignant – the only way that safe spaces can work is if they are undertaken as a shared responsibility by all.

Aoife Robinson is a writer interested in feminism, representation and socially-engaged art.

Wu Tsang: Under Cinema is on display at FACT until 18 February 2018.

Published 09.11.2017 by Sinead Nunes in Reviews

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