Living and working in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as an artist, film-maker and cultural worker, one of the greatest challenges is accessing information about the international art market. Our libraries and book shops are stockpiled with outdated literature that you’d find in the one-dollar bins of any Western store. Yet there are moments when you can discover a real gem, which I assume is a remnant from a visiting foreigner. On such an occasion, I came across on the streets through a DVD bootlegger a copy of Steve McQueen’s film Shame 2011, which for me was like finding a diamond in a haystack.
Having graduated from the Howard University film programme in Washington, I am always looking for films that challenge the status quo of black cinema, so often propagated by the Hollywood studio system. Hence, my interest in McQueen as an artist and film-maker is primarily based on his use of his craft as a form of self-expression that delves into stories of humanity, rather than repeating the standard rhetoric that is expected from a black film-maker. Far too often, as a person of colour working in visual media, we are regarded as exotic figures simply because of our place of birth or the colour of our skin, as opposed to the strength and content of our work as it relates to the international art community. However, in this day and age, with the encroaching realities of globalisation and access to various art movements through the internet, it is becoming apparent that the role of the artist is shifting away from regurgitating nationalistic or cultural sentiments towards a global dialogue on the plight of society as a whole that is free of the shackles set by institutions and systems.
McQueen, through his various work, is a reflection on the future trend and direction of presenting the complexities and diversity of black artists who are producing content that crosses all borders.