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Rea Tajiri

Lately I have been having a lot of conversations about the issues Art and Tony bring up with other makers privately, so, I'm glad to be participating in a dialogue such as this one publicly. There are limited opportunities for speech on the one hand and, on the other, we need to pay attention to the issue of how, as makers of color, our speech will be framed.

For instance, even though I'm glad to be participating in this dialogue, in many ways I've had a hard time writing a response. I get caught up and painfully aware of my own reluctance to speaking in public forum, scrutinizing the context, framing, and how the art industry might have me packaged and summed up neatly before I get the words out. There is a lot of anger unexpressed that I have about the art world in general – the various mechanisms that operate flip/flop out of control that I feel controlled by.

Regardless of the noise that continues inside my head, I think it is really important that we focus on attempting to control, define, and create our own context for our work, begin to articulate all of these fears as concerns and, at the same time, develop a language for criticism on these issues. Being sort of grouped together in the voices-from-the-margins-type show limits and generalizes the readings on our work and continues to set up a marginalized, out-of-the-mainstream status. In the mean time what all of us are dying for is to get some serious writing done about our work, aesthetics and issues.

One thing I will say about the whole multicultural thing (and it's gotten to the point where I really have a hard time even using that term anymore) is that it's finally acknowledged our presence as makers of color. If we're being used, then somehow it's up to us to also use this whole thing to our advantage. If it allows us to get the work made, if it allows us to get the work out there, if it allows us more visibility at least to one another, then it's been beneficial. I do think it's opened up a channel for some kind of dialogue and consciousness, made our identities stronger and clearer for us, allowed us to grow and develop collectively. We all have to retain awareness of that fact while also being aware that (although video work has always been one of the harder art forms to commodify) we're still packaged like any other commodity and, as artists of color, we're part of the latest marketing trend.

One of the more painful and difficult things, and something we have to address, is the tensions between white makers and makers of color in terms of funding. Right now I've heard several makers complain about how most of the funding is now going towards makers of color and they question whether or not we're receiving these accolades on the basis of any real quality in the work. A couple of cynical asides by white colleagues have been made in front of me (telling me of course they're only joking) referring to how all the jobs in the academic world have been going to pocs, and as to how the extinction of the white male is imminent in the funding game. This kind of thinking sort of assumes that there's been some kind of reversal as though somehow makers of color are now part of a power elite. Are we taking over? The problem should be focused on the realities of a system that exists, one that's always been in place, which allows for only a few to receive awards and others to be displaced. And also the problem should be focused toward the realities of our ever shrinking pool of arts funding. It seems as though the hostility is misdirected, since in the mean time there are many makers of color who have yet to receive their first grant check.

The other issue I'd like to raise is that those of us who have received some degree of recognition or "acceptance" are questioning what that really means? Accepted by whom, for what audience, who's seeing the work and who are we really speaking to? What happens to our work seen in a mainstream venue? And then, once the few of us are allowed to squeeze through and are "rewarded," are we allowed to fail? Being given this "privilege" our abilities are always scrutinized and questioned. Somehow, even trying to succeed within this context carries with it certain pressures and conditions.

Reflecting back on what Art Jones says, we probably need to think a bit more about the power relations behind the whole multicultural movement and that "multiculturalism is the latest spin on the same old history," especially if it ignores or refuses to examine the power relations and the realities of classism and racism.