Cultural Citizenship, Identity Politics and Spaces of Belonging

Music brings people together...and I'm not just talking music festivals

Music brings people together…and I’m not just talking music festivals

A few weeks ago I came across this article on “cultural citizenship” as discussed by a recent panel at Harvard University. What fascinated me was the focus on conceptualising citizenship as not simply related to national identity or civic activity, but to the artistic creation of spaces of belonging with others. More specifically, this article considers how shared creative activities can engender inclusion that isn’t simply about enveloping the other in a predefined space, but is in fact about creating a new space with the other. As panellist Colin Jacobson is quoted as saying, “In order to play with someone else, you have to have a shared common ground on which to stand”.

Notably it seems that cultural citizenship is also explicitly connected with ideas about minority expression, and as this article also discusses, the importance of being able to perform significant traditional forms of music in new contexts. However, the broader theme of creativity as key to emergent spaces of belonging that does not take identity, simple “pluralism”, or assimilation as centralising concepts par excellence for notions of belonging,  I think has relevance to potentially imagining new possibilities of gender and sexuality beyond binaries like man/woman and gay/straight outside of the problematics of identity politics.

painting%20as%20universal%20language

Perhaps we could see painting together as creating a space of belonging too

To test this idea, I racked my brain – could I think of an example where artistic expression is being used to develop such as space related to gender and sexuality? Then I realised, the queer choir I was part of last year does in many ways function as a model of artistic inclusivity in the Canberra community. Though the Qwire (as it is known) is also sometimes called the “Canberra Gay and Lesbian Choir” this is perhaps due more to its sexuality-politics historical roots in the 90s, than its current member base. Qwire was one of the first places where I felt very welcomed in the queer community “despite” identifying as pan/bisexual. There were of course a few people who I felt maybe weren’t so keen to chat to me once they heard I had a boyfriend. But aside from the individual-to-individual differences of orientation and opinion, the point is that as a whole Qwire is a place for singing together and thus creating a space for (literally!) expressing oneself in harmony with others. In choir I was more than just a funny sounding alto line – I was part of beautiful and complex chords.

The possibilities of artistic expression are endless...

The possibilities of artistic expression are endless…

This year I’m meant to be focusing more on study (blogging counts right? *cough*) so I’m taking a break from Qwire and enjoying being on the receiving end of many of their public performances. But when I think about my time there, the more it strikes me as a great thing to have been a part of. Often the Qwire performs at events where there might be a lot of problematic identity politics stuff going down – where questions might be being raised about only a narrow proportion of the queer community being represented, etc – but then Qwire will step up and sing, and for a moment at least those political tensions are put aside. Because Qwire is a veritable alphabet soup, and there’s a lot more joy and playfulness than there is policing of identity boundaries. And it seems to me that even if you’re just listening, you’re part of a new shared space.

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5 thoughts on “Cultural Citizenship, Identity Politics and Spaces of Belonging

  1. Pingback: Citizenship Education – Miss Stoyko

  2. Pingback: Cultural Citizenship, Identity Politics and Spaces of Belonging | sillybean5

  3. Reblogged this on sillybean5 and commented:
    Is artistic expression an avenue through which ‘others’ can participate in ‘cultures’ which otherwise exclude them?

    Can art re-enscribe other’d bodies with belonging/humanity/citizenship through the process of democratic participation and the creation of dwelling spaces where the audience is permitted to consume the bodies of participants via the art that they co-creating?

    The article to which Hannah’s post refers suggests this is the case. Referring to an idea of ‘cultural citizenship’ (this being my first encounter with said concept… and so I have yet to unpack it), the Harvard Gazette article posits that the openness with which people receive artistic expression, coupled with artistic media’s ease of translatability ((perhaps, as opposed to other cultural habitus whose semiotic complexity and level of cultivated competency, may render the cultural-newb’s efforts inauthentic?)) means that artistic expression can operate as a sort of levelling ground, a phenomenon where many who might otherwise be denied access to culture can participate in culture, and possibly even an avenue to that culture. Because artistic practice is a language that momentarily supersedes the individual identities of those who participate in it (correct me if I am reading this wrongly, because my imagination interferes with my reading, often)

    As I write this a whole bunch of questions come up about ritual, access, aesthetic taste, identity boundaries, what is culture etc. Does participating in art create a new culture, in which other cultural judgements are suspended? Or does it act as a footnote to existing culture, thereby modifying existing cultural narratives?
    Or does, for example, the racist/sexist/ableist hat simply go back on the head of the privileged in other spheres of culture and thus the moment of artistic expression is but mere respite from the critical gaze of the privileged other?

    What does it mean to say that artistic expression is culture? I am fascinated by the use of the term in the Harvard article. There is something very definite about it’s use that unsettles me. So I need to understand the context to feel better about it.
    Does art really unify? How do we measure that?
    I am sure I will ponder those later. Because I am not supposed to be blogging right now 😛 Oops.

    Here some quotes from the original article:

    “culture becomes “the voice of expression” for many migrating communities because they lack political representation or public recognition”

    My thought stream from this comment: Aka the dominant culture can only handle their otherness when it is suspended in the valour-liquid of entertainment… but then art is a phantastic space, often beyond words, whose constructed necessitates that we suspend our judgement and be imaginative… so maybe we allow the other to be appreciated in the spaces of art, stand beside us as artistic equals, because it is a pretend sphere.
    Ok, no analysis here. Laziness. I clearly have my pessimists hat on for no reason.

    “Panelist Colin Jacobsen, violinist and composer with the ensemble, said the fluid nature and shared language of music contributes to cultural citizenship just about every time the group practices.

    “In order to play with someone else, you have to have a shared common ground on which to stand,” he said. “Each one of us … comes from a particular tradition, but there’s also a common sense of curiosity about what we don’t know, and the desire to reach out and hopefully incorporate that.

    “It doesn’t mean you have to learn everything about another tradition. But you need a sense of courage to leap into the unknown. And in that moment, in that encounter, there’s a desire to not hold on to only what you know, but to try and fully absorb what is in front of you in that moment … and hopefully you then learn and grow as well.”
    http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2013/03/the-quest-for-common-ground/

    Above, Hannah describes the Qwire (Canberra Gay and Lesbian Choir) as the space in which cultural citizenship is enacted in her world.

    Of course, without fully encountering the context of this article, this article has piqued my attention because it includes the idea of democratising dwelling spaces, where the mutual act of purposeful dwelling (play, co-creation, recreation) promotes community.
    Further, the dwelling places that are discussed are those that occur in the practice of artistic expression. I am all over that, like a cupcake. Nom nom.

  4. “There were of course a few people who I felt maybe weren’t so keen to chat to me once they heard I had a boyfriend.” Wait a minute. Isn’t that like totally what most of those people, (but don’t ask me what do I mean by those people because you know) fight against? Judgement based on who you’re doing rather than who you are?

    Isn’t have a Qwire all about breaking down stigma and barriers?

    And hearing great music sung by the unsung heroes? (giggle)

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