Aspiration and Representation: Looking Back to Travel Forwards

By Heather Marks


Aspiration and Representation: Looking Back to Travel Forward was organized by Dr. Deirdre Osborne, of Goldsmiths, University of London, with Professor Kurt Barling, of Middlesex University, and took place at Goldsmiths on Thursday 19th January 2017.

The day’s events kicked off with the third installment of the Renegade Raconteurs series, starting with Professor Kurt Barling’s lecture, ‘The Rhetoric of Race’, which offered many insights into the way the concept of race has obscured important debates on equality, justice and freedom. Prof. Kurt Barling shared anecdotes which highlighted the necessity of moving beyond skin colour, as he spoke about the death of his cousin, Keith Church, whose paintings comprised the accompanying exhibit ‘Urge to Paint’.

Next was the respondent panel, chaired by Dr. Osborne, with speakers Afua Hirsch, (Sky Arts) Dr. Clea Bourne, (Goldsmiths) and Professor Claudia Bernard (Goldsmiths). Each speaker offered a brilliant anatomisation on the varying degrees in which the rhetoric of race permeates our everyday experiences. Dr. Clea Bourne drew attention to the rising number of jobs given to Artifical Intelligence, and the accompanying discussions of AI rights, asking ‘where does this leave people of colour who still have not achieved equality?’

Prof. Claudia Bernard highlighted the difficulty parents have in providing children with the tools to deal with racism, particularly the passing on of ‘unwritten rules’ when it comes to succeeding in the workplace. This point in particular was felt strongly by the audience, with one member pointing out the sense of competition she felt was encouraged by the politics of gatekeeping, and whether, as people of colour, ‘are we prepared to share the unwritten rules between us?’


Afua Hirsch offered critique on how politicians and gatekeepers can speak the language of BAME, while at the same time take away the rights of people of colour. Hirsch also contributed her own experiences of working in media as a black female presenter, citing an event held by the Daily Mail – ‘congratulating themselves on diversity at the event, attendees were baffled when questioned about a racist headline on that day’s newspaper.’

Next in the Aspiration and Representation schedule  was the Performing Mothers panel, chaired by Dr. Osborne, with speakers Professor Elaine Aston (Lancaster University), playwright Winsome Pinnock, and Dr. Fiona Peters (Goldsmiths). This panel threw up lots of interesting topics, as the audience and panel speakers shared their own personal experiences of growing up in, or having, multi-ethnic families. Dr. Fiona Peters raised points on the dissonance felt by mixed-heritage children with absent black fathers about their cultural identity. Winsome Pinnock discussed how writing about black families in her work was a way of bringing to the stage her own experience. Prof. Elaine Aston discussed the importance of SuAndi’s play The Story of M, and how it radically changed her idea of feminist performance. This was followed by a Q&A with the audience; the discussion brought the points raised in the panel about representations of motherhood and mixedness into a lived clarity, as audience members poignantly shared their experiences, of being mothers raising mixed heritage children in Britain, and of being mixed heritage children who had been raised in care.

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Following the Performing Mothers panel was the much anticipated book launch of the single edition of SuAndi’s play, The Story of M. The Story of M is one of a number of texts selected to be on the new Edexcel Black British Literature list for A-Level, and was devised by Dr. Deirdre Osborne. The Story of M was an emotionally overwhelming performance, delivered in spellbinding style, by the incomparable SuAndi, who then took questions from rapt audience members – many of whom had never seen the staging of a multi-ethnic British family before.

For many, Aspiration and Representations provided the chance to reflect on the ways in which the ‘R’ word still obscures our lives, as young people and adults. Furthermore, the Performing Mothers panel, and SuAndi’s The Story of M, shared many insights into the challenges faced by both parent and child in multi-ethnic families.


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