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A Magazine for Sheffield

Slate: Black Artists Development

As a child in the 80s, I recall whenever there was anything remotely Asian on TV we’d all flock to it like a magnet. It was probably something like Network East, a weekly Asian magazine programme. On one occasion we all sat down as a family on a Saturday evening to watch ‘Salaam Bombay’ on Channel 4, anticipating something reflective of our Indian-ness. To my parents’ horror – who were Sikhs from former Punjabi farming communities in North India – the film was about poverty and exploitation among Bombay’s street kids. It didn’t quite hit their itch for seeing something about their lives or even lives they could relate to. Growing up in a white majority country and heteronormative world, I was invisible. Asians were non-existent in advertising and rare in Western pop videos and visible journalism. The common images and stories associated with us were: arranged marriages, Bollywood, bhangra and, later, honour killings and terrorism. This hasn’t changed significantly in mainstream media or cultural production. At the age of 31, and my first time in India as an adult, I was dumbstruck on seeing an Indian child on a packet of biscuits. I remember holding the packet and turning it around, feeling a sense of wonderment and pride. The absence back home hadn’t occurred to me consciously until I experienced the tangible alternative in my hands. Somehow I managed to work in an area of the arts which allowed me to start questioning and challenging the status quo of cultural production and representation. I worked with Black Country Touring in the West Midlands for eight years as a producer of a new programme of work, which was born from conversations with and inspired by ethnically diverse communities. For me, cultivating contemporary South Asian narratives for new South Asian and wider audiences was highly developmental and rewarding. It felt like a privilege to be taking a project community on an artistic journey and learning more about myself through the process. On reflection, what I’m talking about is an acknowledgement. It is powerful and affirming to see, hear and live your stories in a public space with a community of others, some like you and others different to you. Over more recent years my work has had a strategic focus on increasing visibility of British Asian LGBT lives and shorter story formats, culminating in two digital animated shorts on the subject which have screened over 80 times, including 15 international cities. Ironically it has been less labour-intensive to present my work in new places supported by strangers, including other cultures, than in my now home city of Sheffield. This brings me on to Slate, a new development programme for black artists across the North of England. Over the next three years we will provide workshops, retreats, skills development, residencies, production support and commission new work. We’re interested in artists working in all art forms. Slate is run by Eclipse Theatre Company, a middle-scale touring theatre company with a finger in short film production and radio plays too. Eclipse is part of Arts Council England’s National Portfolio. We have six 'enablers' in place across the North and I have a remit for South Yorkshire. My role is to identify artists, to learn more about their needs and ambitions, and to ensure they hear about the opportunities through the programme to support them in their career development and longer-term sustainability. We are also developing an international arts network with artists, projects and organisations who would also like to see a more consolidated black arts world. I’m working on Slate because I fundamentally desire a more ethnically diverse cultural sector. I know there is talent and ambition out there, working hard to be fully realised. Black artists based in South Yorkshire wanting to engage with Eclipse, please contact me on 'Black' is defined in the broadest sense: African, Caribbean, East Asian, Middle Eastern and South Asian. SLATE is supported using public funding by Arts Council England. @Bobstaah )

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