Why it’s time to decolonise the creative industries

The cultural canon has been the subject of recurring debate over the years, but has taken on new significance in light of recent events. CR speaks to publisher Sold Out and photo editor and LISTO founder Sara Urbaez about why decolonisation should be a movement, not a moment

The past couple of months have been a vital time in the fight for racial equality. The tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer has not only triggered a wave of global protests but also a broader reflection on the nature of race and its role in society.

Individuals and businesses within the creative industries have been using this period of reflection to think about what more they could and should be doing. While diversity is a term that most of us are familiar with by now – whether through workplace initiatives or the events and organisations dedicated to inclusivity – decolonisation is an expression that has appeared more frequently in the wake of the recent Black Lives Matter protests, particularly in relation to removing colonial relics such as Bristol’s statue of slave trader Edward Colston.

Top image and above: Christopher Gregory-Rivera, @cgregoryphoto

Although often used interchangeably, there is a clear distinction to be made between diversity and decolonisation. As Anoushka Khandwala points out in her recent article for AIGA’s Eye on Design: “Diversity is about bringing more people to the table. Decolonisation is about changing the way we think.” Historically used to describe the withdrawal of a state from a former colony, decolonisation is now more about looking at how the West’s society and culture has been built on the colonisation and oppression of other nations, and how we can work to readdress that.

So what does confronting our colonial past mean in the context of the creative industries? Organisations such as editorial platform and research group Decolonising Design are already making headway when it comes to deconstructing the lens through which creative work is currently judged, where the canon of typically white, male creatives set the bar for what is considered good or bad. But in recent months we’ve also seen a new wave of organisations springing up and tackling the thorny issue of decolonisation.