On this page I’m writing about diversity within showcase accounts on Instagram, but particularly about the lack of diversity and accountability.
I love showcase accounts for the platform they have given printmakers, I follow three major showcase accounts on Instagram and through these accounts I have discovered wonderful printmakers whose work I eagerly follow. At the risk of sounding bitter, though, I have beef with these accounts too. When I’m scrolling through my feed it’s great to see their posts peppered through the line of my usual followed accounts, but when you take a look at their grid – really take a look – it’s hard not to become imbittered at the monotony of accounts they showcase.
According to an Arts Council England 2018 report, Equality, Diversity and the Creative Case, diversity represents a resource of talent that can sustain society through its current challenges and point the way to a future that includes the whole national community. This is a recognition of the diversity within society that therefore requires representation in the arts. It feels quite condescending to have to explain something that is so glaringly obvious, but it is also something that is so often overlooked and not discussed among my peers in the community.
Why do we need diversity in this industry?
In a nutshell, representation matters. Kings have lost their thrones (and their head) for representative democracy. Wars have been fought in foreign lands to promote the concept of political representation. Women chained themselves to fences for representation in parliament. Representation matters because we’re all participants of the systems we live in – as an audience we consume the arts through our eyes, through our wallets and through our affirmation in double clicks on our Instagram feed. There is no doubt that your audience is ethnically diverse. Your grid should reflect that too. Non white artists deserve representation for the mere fact that we exist as our white majority counterparts do, and contribute to the industry in the exact same way, our work tells stories about our thoughts, history, perspective and opinion, in the same way that white print makers do too. Our work is a demonstration of our talent, in the same way that a white printmaker’s is. When you diversify your grid, you represent all print makers and you give all print makers an equal amount of space.
I reached out to the three showcase accounts I follow with an innocuous question about how to get featured on their account and got a response from two, one of which is now defunct. Features require tagging your posts with a hashtag particular to the account. Anyone can search the hashtag, it brings up hundreds of thousands of posts so the real question is, how these accounts choose from those posts? There is undoubtedly prejudice in this selection. There isn’t a dearth of non-white printmakers, I follow so many myself.
This has been bothering me for a really long time, but it wasn’t until the murder of George Floyd and the reaction from the printmaking community that it really got under my skin. Arguably the largest showcase account on IG shared ONE image of a print of Lauren Hill. When you look through the grid, you can see the week (or day?) that black lives mattered to the account holder. It’s comical. With the other showcase accounts, you can tell when the BLM uprising began, because suddenly their grid started to look more diverse.
The prints these showcase accounts choose to promote are quite reductive too – they are images that are specific to the ethnicity of the printmaker, as though their art is only worthy of wider attention when it conforms wholly to the concept of ethnicity that the gaze of the gate keeper appreciates.
When I wrote earlier in this piece about the lack of accountability to these accounts it partially displaces the responsibility of diversifying on the people who follow these accounts. That isn’t my intention. It isn’t our responsibility to awaken the account holder, but change won’t happen organically – it needs to be called out.