No one could foresee it becoming an issue in last year’s Norwegian General Election: the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation’s (NRK) launch of the TV show ‘Faten goes to the polls’. Before the show was even aired, NRK had received around 6000 complaints, different in nature, but all deeply dissatisfied with a hijab-wearing woman being the protagonist of the show. The discussion around what the hijab symbolised, and whether it was compatible with Norwegian values, fired off.
Living in London now, in an environment where Asian (and in this case East Asian) culture is peripheral, I am hungry to see or hear representations of almost any kind, and am unbothered in my rampant consumption of Japanese cultural products. But growing up in Singapore as an ethnic Chinese, I felt conflicted about the widespread popularity of Japanese films and books.
We asked some people in London one disarmingly simple question: what makes you think you’re British? Philosopher Ernest Renan said that “a nation’s existence is… a daily plebiscite”.
Beyond the theoretical articulations the artworks embody, the exhibition is a reminder of the tangibility and materiality of an identity. While the answer to ‘Is there a Negro image’ remains unclear, the potency of the idea is apparent.