Untitled (white man's burden) 2021
Commissioned by Attenborough Arts Centre, Leicester Untitled (white man's burden) for their new exhibition The World as a Work in Progress. The series of five sculptural works which form an intersection between three of Forbes existing works Shop... selling the ontology of whiteness and Auto Portrait after Rembrandt, a black man in a wig and baseball cap and Masquerade... evolution of the black body. Seated white male mannequins are presented holding books on racial politics adorned with bright coloured wigs on black plinths partially wrapped in black plastic - cooling fans between the plinths blow the hair. The installation will be integrated with figures from Masquerade... evolution of the black body.
The work explores racial politics and questions supremacy of one race over another, and the impact of an unequal society, where everyone loses at the expense of the small percentage of perceived winners. There is an ugliness to the perceived winners, which couches itself in white supremacy and race bias. Whiteness and white supremacy are invisible blankets, impacting on society, which allows discrimination, race hatred and violence to thrive.
The work challenges white supremacy and centuries of conditioning, which have real-world impact.
The World as a Work in Progress show is timely as Britain and many western societies question the hypotheses of a post racial society; but this flies in the face of continuing inequality as disproportionate numbers of black people:
Die involving the police in the US and UK
Face unemployment and poverty
Die of Covid 19 and refuse vaccines because of lack of trust and misinformation
Are targeted in the criminal justice system
Children are excluded from school
Die as they migrate searching for a better life
Face discrimination for opportunities within all sectors of society, including the Arts
And, the list goes on, as Forbes openly discusses contemporary racial politics, migration, blackness and whiteness in relation to universal debates on history and religion, within his practice, making these conversations real. His work Gold Christ for Gold People and Black Christ for Black People, explores acts of migration from north Africa to southern Europe in inadequate vessels, causing countless deaths enroute.
The work also acknowledges the rise of religion on the African continent, particularly Christianity and the increasing economic power of China. And, in the UK, the recent controversy surrounding the publication of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities Report identified several contradictory elements in a largely superficial Report which professed issues affecting people’s lives do not exist, such as ‘white privilege’ (which in itself, might become a problematic term). Despite this Forbes found elements of the Report enlightening e.g. the extensive research data on education and the disparity of achievement from the highest ‘ethnic group’, being the Chinese, Indians and the lowest being the Black Caribbean, Irish Traveller and the Gipsy / Roma – with the White British somewhere in the middle.
The impact of whiteness and white supremacy are real, historically and within contemporary life, which Forbes explores and highlights through his work. As, a black brit, Forbes has grown up under the blanket of whiteness and white supremacy not having fully understood its impact on his and other black people’s lives.
Under the banner of whiteness and European aesthetic notions of human beauty, Forbes uses stark white contemporary mannequins sitting on constructed plinths, which take the form of monuments. He challenges the traditional figures of ‘old white dead men’ sitting on top of plinths within our cities, using brightly coloured party wigs and the disformed figure.
There is the dichotomy of the wigs as a symbol of whiteness, or the aspiration to consume or align oneself with whiteness, as long straight hair has become a trophy to acquire through whatever means. The brightly coloured wigs are referred to as party wigs, which can be seen on one level as light and fun, but on another level, they carry connotations of dis-ease with one’s appearance, and heritage. There are vested interests in keeping the wig business alive and well, as sectors of the East & South Asian communities, provide the hair, also generate large profits from the marketing and selling of the products.
The Plinths are an integral element of the narrative of these sculptural works, moving beyond the traditional role of the plinth, as a platform to display works, which is discussed further in the final paragraph.The fixed wheels under the plinths are a decorative aesthetic tool for the work, with colour codings, offering a suggestion of fragility, with the potential to topple at any moment. With their fragility and fixed position Forbes is suggesting the wheels offer a metaphor for unequal societies.
In his work, Shop... selling the ontology of whiteness Forbes highlights the use of the mannequins in the shop windows which actively promote whiteness. The mannequins are predominately white, with a small percentage being brown and a few with a black person’s facial features, but coloured white or shades of blue. Forbes’ hypothesis here is the mannequins with black facial features, are not allowed to be black/brown, thereby undermining and devaluing blackness further in the hyper-capitalist system of creating desire. For Forbes there is a clear message here, that whiteness sells luxury goods, whilst blackness carries some cachet of coolness, edgy or danger, but not enough value to be the main visual representation of the shop windows.
The partial wrapping of work in black plastic skin is inspiration from a previous work Masquerade... evolution of the black body, which acknowledges we are a product of our cultural heritage, with our visual physical and metaphysical presence.
The world as work in progress develops Forbes’ understanding of the complexities of who we are as humans, from all sectors of society – with the evolution of man, comes the evolution of racial politics. From the outside the black skin has become a signifier of a range of narratives as through centuries of conditioning, the black mind has consumed and embraced these narratives.
The partial wrapping of the work could be an attempt to neatly wrap historical racial politics in a convenient package, which allows us to stride forward, whilst the bulging lumps and stretch marks suggest there is tension lying beneath the surface – with the far right on the move, the warning signs are there.
the body is a site of contested meanings signifies
the historicity of its being as lived and meant within the
interstices of social semiotics, institutional forces, and various
discursive frames of references.