This event, the first of the Revolting Women strand of the Edinburgh International Book Festival curated by Adele Patrick, is chaired by Akwugo Emejulu with Djamila Ribeiro, Heidi Safia Mirza and Sara Wajid.
This fast-paced, urgent meeting addresses de-colonialism, diversity, the de-toxing of our cultural institutions, and a whole lot else besides. All four women are informed individuals, working in academia and the arts, and all bring a different cultural heritage and range of attainments which qualify them to speak about an honest way to bring about change right now.
They are outspoken and share their realities so that we have insight into the situation in Brazil (Ribeiro, writer and activist in the Afro-Brazillian women’s movement); into where the real power lies at Goldsmiths University, London (Mirza, recent Professor of Race, Faith and Culture); and what makes a difference in establishments like the Museum of London (Wajid, Head of Engagement).
Everyone seems to know everyone else in this tight-knit community and it is clear that solidarity is necessary for support and to share valuable resources (there is now a 200-strong Museum Detox network for black, Asian and minority ethnic museum workers who are BAME). The group demonstrate an intense sense of responsibility and it is therefore vital to them that change happens and that the balance is addressed. There is no mincing words: “building community is a good place to start – and [if you are angry] I really recommend rage tweeting,” says Emejulu.
In one hour this panel acknowledge that de-colonisation is a way of, as Ribeiro puts it, “working through another geography of reason”; that Indian women were marching alongside white ones in 1911 (a photo of Indian women holding up a banner is displayed) – “until I found this I didn’t think I was in the history,” says Mirza; and that although museums and other institutions talk about addressing diversity they actually still only employ fewer than 3% ethnic minorities. Because they “are cuddly” says Wajid, we forget that “they are a colonial technology inherently … [and] people can smell the DNA in its actions, can smell it for the bogus bollocks that it is” – in other words paying lip service. That gets nods all round.