GENTLE / RADICAL: A Practice of Intersectionality

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Gentle / Radical is a Welsh collective from Cardiff, placing cultural democratisation at the core of their activity – as clearly stated on their official website[1]. The group is composed of individuals with different backgrounds, from art professionals to community workers. The common purpose of this miscellaneous collective is the employment of art as a tool for social change. Their action – which constantly tries to engage the community of the Riverside area, where the collective is based – earned them a nomination for a Turner prize. 

To understand the importance of actions undertaken by Gentle / Radical for their hyper-local community, it is necessary to consider all peculiarities of the Riverside area, where most of the collective’s work takes place. Riverside is indeed a populous district, with approximately 13,000 inhabitants, mostly belonging to Bangladeshi, Chinese and Sikh communities. It’s clear then that the collective operates in a composite context, in which creating relationships through shared culture can be challenging just as much as demanding. 

In the official nomination to the Turner Prize, the collective is praised for their project Doorstep Revolution, which took off during the first lockdown due to Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. On this occasion, members of the group created a portrait of the Riverside population through a series of doorstep interviews. Residents of the neighborhood were asked to share their views and feelings on the current health emergency; interviews eventually evolved into broader discussions on changing priorities and new perspectives developed by the community as a response to the global pandemic. The choice to conduct a set of doorstep interviews happily echoes film director Agnes Varda and graffiti artist JR’s on the road journey through France, documented in their feature Visage Village (2017); though Doorstep Revolution may not be considered a direct citation of the duo’s work, it surely rides the wave of community building and participation, two common features in contemporary art. Furthermore, one of the outcomes of the Doorstep Revolution project was the creation of a podcast and of a multilingual newspaper for the South Riverside. By doing so, the collective gave voice to people of different ages and customs, united by the simple fact of living in the same background.

Since 2004, the collective is also organising a Film Club aimed at diffusing independent radical movies from all over the world. Inclusivity is sought-after not only in the selection of films for the screening program, but also in audience engagement. Projections are indeed destined to individuals, families and groups of people who cannot easily access regular movie theatres or do not feel involved as an audience by commercial cinema. 

Cultural decolonisation is a central theme in the activity of Gentle / Radical. It emerges clearly in a series of public discussions conducted by the group between 2018 and 2019, namely the Imagination Forums. These events resulted from the group’s awareness that often « artists are used as tick boxes to serve ‘diversity’ agendas »[2]. The forums have been thus developed as an instrument to promote the complete integration of inclusive practices in all of our daily actions. Imagination emerged from a series of dialogues involving the local community, which was called to envision their country freed of racism, patriarchy and class discrimination.    

When examining the work of such a composite collective, the question on the legitimacy of anti colonialist discourse in artistic practices comes about quite easily. Gentle / Radical’s work is indeed remarkable for their choice to focus on a hyper-local dimension rather than aspiring to the involvement of the global community, which – although currently eased by an almost total interconnection – is likely to be limited and belittling. Their practice is also efficient as it directly involves an heterogeneous community, which is called to reflect on its very condition of discrimination. By doing so, the collective breaks the common practice of producing something to be contemplated by the spectators, be it an artistic object, a theory or a performance; Gentle / Radical directly involves the audience in the artistic practice, allowing them to bring their authentic view on issues regarding their own community. 

Although it’s not clear whether the nomination of Gentle / Radical for a Turner Prize is Tate’s response to the spreading need of a (formally) inclusive representation, the group’s promotion of inclusivity is undoubtedly successful. Their practice translates intersectionality on a practical level and offers a model of artistic action that doesn’t consider the artist as the only creator but rather gives voice to a composite plurality. In this sense, the collective – although less aesthetically involved – manages to deliver an art which is functional. With Gentle / Radical, social utility is not imposed nor forced, it is rather declined in an extremely contemporary and natural manner. The collective indeed is not afraid to state that « art should be useful to society »[3] and their action is valid also because of the means through which it’s delivered: group discussions, film forums and interviews. These practices, besides not strictly-artistic, can’t also be easily enclosed in the physical space of a museum or a gallery. In this sense, the group may be refusing official institutions in an implicit – yet incredibly coherent – way. 

[1]Gentle / Radical (2021). Why. gentleradical.org

[2]Gentle / Radical (2019). Imagination Forum. gentleradical.org

[3]Gentle / Radical (2021). Why. gentleradical.org

Resources:

Community Fund (2021). Doorstep Revolution. Retrieved on 17th October 2021. 

Gentle / Radical (2019). Imagination Forum. Retrieved on 17th October 2021. gentleradical.org

Gentle / Radical (2020). Doorstep Revolution. Retrieved on 17th October 2021. gentleradical.org

Gentle / Radical (2020). Film Club. Retrieved on 19th October 2021. gentleradical.org

Gentle / Radical (2021). Who. Retrieved on 17th October 2021. gentleradical.org

Gentle / Radical (2021). Why. Retrieved on 18th October 2021. gentleradical.org

South Riverside Community Development Centre (2020). Doorstep Revolution Gentle Radical. Retrieved on 17th October 2021. srcdc.org.uk/

Tate (2021). Turner Prize Shortlist Announced. Retrieved on 17th October 2021. tate.org.uk

Wales Arts Review (2021). Gentle / Radical 4: Decolonising the Arts. Retrieved on 17th October 2021. walesartsreview.org

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