The equal opportunist

A tale of check-box culture

By Josie Demuth


Babatunde was tired of the dizzy, disappointing world of arts applications. Having graduated from Camberwell, he had been peeved to find himself working in the supermarket, Lindl, with just one solo show, which he had paid for at a for-hire gallery. Out of money, he had been about to give up and return to Nigeria, when something happened.

The government’s Arts Board was under fire. No marginalized artists had been included in their prestigious awards, and upon further scrutiny, the media revealed that no funding had been made available either. It was all a shambolic whitewash, and the government could only respond by creating a whole new program for those on the periphery.

A spark of hope ignited in Babatunde, and he submitted an application to “On the Edge” and crossed his fingers for one of the lucrative grants it offered. To his delight, a letter arrived from the Arts Board, and he held his breath as he opened it. Babatunde’s heart sunk. He had not been successful. His work was described as “unable to ignite the inspiration sought.”

But his work had been a set of classic English portraits, embellished with Nigerian coins. It was symbolic of the two cultures colliding to become one.

To make matters worse, Babatunde’s Lindl supermarket branch was closed, leaving him jobless and almost instantly in debt. He returned to his “On The Edge” application. Could it be he was not marginalised enough? Well then, perhaps he could change this.

He resubmitted his application, ticking the box “ethnic minority” as before. This time, however, he also struck the squares next to “disabled” and “homosexual.” He clicked “send” and reclined in his broken desk chair. He could already feel a sudden turn of the wheel.

Many months later, Babatunde reclined in his state-of-the-art wheelchair. His paintings were being hung across the light, spacious gallery, and curators and gallerists fussed about him like mother hens.

“Put that one over there!” ordered Petunia, the head of the Arts Board. “It’s the most distinctive piece. It screams out Babatunde’s struggle.”

Babatunde stuck up his thumb at the skinny brunette. It was an old piece from his for-hire gallery show, squashed in transit. Petunia seemed to be drawn to its trampled effect, her small, grey eyes glinting upon its unveiling. It was reminiscent of his treatment, as a multi-challenged individual, she said.

This was his fourth solo show in a high-profile gallery. In just a year, he had become one of London’s most celebrated artists. A symbol.

Read the rest of this story in the Summer 2016 issue of Artenol. Order yours today

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