Everyone needs to eat and pay bills. Hey, we owe, right. That’s what’s up most of the time. There is Art in one space and real life in another.  So often people get the sense that the great Artists don’t do housework. Did Van Gogh clean the bathroom?

Art is Sublime, potentially Souldestroying, possibly a channel to Divinity and definitely undomestic. The material conditions of our existence, our need to survive, plus our sense of who we are in the world and whether we feel able to step forward and declare ourselves as


Hm, artist, keh.

Is that what is going to feed you

Mr John’s child is graduating from Ivy League

When are you going to settle down

Those are the outer voices, which can kill a creative vision.

If we think of art as a game, maybe even “the beautiful game” then let’s take a look at who is  on the playing field?  These people range between independently wealthy and homeless.  People who  do not need to make a living at all or who cannot live without art.

How long  players are able to experiment, train, sharpen their vision, live long enough to mature, depends very much on the conditions of their existence.

What are the material conditions under which Afropeople make ART a fulltime or part-time thing they do?

There are also powerful inner voices that speak to afroartists at 3 am, insomniac and worried, of self-doubt and fear. Of criticism, failure, of being judged and found not to be sufficient.  Not inspired, trained enough, not being understood, being compared to a norm which isn’t calibrated by Africans.

It’s taken me most of my life to see myself as a WRITER and I have been writing since I could read. It wasn’t until my work was published that I saw myself as someone who could WRITE as opposed to someone who wrote occasionally and wasn’t very sure if it was any good or not. Malika Booker (http://malikabooker.com, and @Malikabooker), has described very honestly that as a working class, inexperienced spoken word artist it took her a long time to see herself as a Poet.  I was inspired enough by her to jump up and say

I am a writer, damn it!!

Malika’s resources were writers development and mentoring programmes in the artistic communities she moved into. She developed her Art as a member of  The Complete Works and Spread the Word (links below from Sandra van Lente)

Artistic communities can be  incubators for Artists, mentoring, networking, channels for distribution but access to those spaces isn’t always easy. Art incubators  happen where people who share similar understandings of struggle come together and create despite the difficult material conditions of existence. Ezibota people!

For a great recent overview of how BAME British and minority ethnic writers are dealing with the material conditions of their existence check out Sandra van Lente’s piece


This post is part of our quarterly theme “Art in Conversation.” |  Read more publications for this series.

Clementine Burnley
Clementine Burnley was born and raised in Cameroon. At the moment, she lives and writes in Berlin, Germany.
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