Rasheed Araeen’s Letter to Third Text Editorial Board, Advisory Council & Supporters

POSTED ON: December 6, 2012 IN Speeches & Statements, Word View

Rasheed Araeen, 6 December 2012

Dear members of the Editorial Board, Advisory Council, and the supporters of Third Text.

I must first thank you all for your tremendous support in this difficult time not only for me personally but, more importantly, for Third Text in its historical struggle to maintain the continuity of its pursuit for truth and its radical vision.

I had already explained my position to you through various emails and statements, and I am grateful for your understanding and the decision of most members of EB and AC to resign from Third Text which is now in the hands of those who continue to maintain their shameful position through lies, fabrications and deceptions. My colleague Gene Ray wrote to you to explain why we had no choice but to cease our contact with the present regime of Third Text.  I should now also explain the background to the whole thing and my reasons for not accepting or submitting myself to the authority of the Trustees Board (TB), and why there was no choice for me/us but to say goodbye to Third Text.

I have already refuted TB’s allegations that there was a crisis of management or lack of transparency of what we were involved in, and that I was mistreating the staff.  No evidence had been offered in support of these allegations, and TB continued to use them to cover up what was actually behind my dismissal. This is very important to recognize in order to understand the truth behind the continuing diatribe of the Trustees Board and its vicious smear campaign against me since I was ousted from my editorship of Third Text.  But before I go into this I want to say something about the history of Black Umbrella /Third Text, as some of you may not be fully aware of it.

I founded the organization of Black Umbrella (BU) in 1984 and developed it through my own initiatives, with its comprehensive programme of research work in order to set up an archive, curatorial programmes and publications. Its main aim was to recognize and promote the knowledge of art which was either institutionally suppressed or had no means to reach a wider public. My first art publication was in 1978, Black Phoenix, an extension of the art discourse that I had earlier proposed in ‘Black Manifesto’, 1975–76, fundamental to which was a critique of the neo-colonial views and policies – and, indeed, racism – enshrined in the Eurocentricity of Western art institutions. It was shelved after three issues as there was little interest or response to it, but was revived as Third Text in 1987. It received some help from sympathetic friends within the art establishment, and indeed some funding from the Arts Council. Besides developing other projects of BU, which were carried out successfully, such as ‘The Other Story’ exhibition for the Hayward Gallery, in 1989, highlighting the historical importance of the works and achievements of non-white (African/Asian) artists in Britain, which were institutionally suppressed, ignored or marginalized by excluding them from the mainstream, I continued the work of Third Text with the help and collaboration of Jean Fisher (who edited it between 1989 and 1998), as a publication of Kala Press (the publication section of BU). I ran Black Umbrella as my private limited company (with 25% share of Jean Fisher) until 2004, when it was registered as a charity and I handed over the organization of Black Umbrella to Ziauddin Sardar, whom I then considered as a good, trustworthy friend – a decision which I now regret.

Generally, we did not have much of a problem in dealing with the Arts Council. There are always difficulties and obstacles in dealing with the bureaucracy of state institutions and one needs special skill to engage them. But when the bureaucracy comes up with its own agenda and makes it a condition of engagement so that one’s freedom to pursue knowledge is infringed upon and contained, it creates an unacceptable or un-resolvable situation. This happened with the cultural policies of the New Labour under the Prime Minister Tony Blair and the reorganization of its main funding body, Arts Council England (ACE), with its new policies and agendas, and the appointment of Julie Lomax as the head of Visual Arts section of its London branch sometime in 2005 or 2006. Soon after we were asked to submit a Business Plan, which should include our ability to raise private funding, as well as plans for cultural diversity, racial equality and community involvement, with a particular focus on the development of young audiences or readership.

BU/TT was never a business. Nor did we run it as such. Our aims and objectives have been to develop and promote serious scholarship in the area of art which was either ignored or suppressed, and this was always and persistently made clear to the Arts council. Moreover, the pursuit of cultural diversity and racial equality has always been fundamental to our ambition, and was pursued right from the beginning, particularly when the Arts Council not only had no policy of its own but also rejected or ignored our demands for cultural diversity and racial equality within the mainstream of art practice, its institutional promotion and legitimation. While it ignored what we had initiated and achieved, ACE came up with its own state-driven diversity agenda and made it a condition of funding. Although this created a lot of problems for us, as we had to divert our meager resources in order to prepare new plans for diversity and equality in conformation with ACE demands, which created new pressure on the staff and some disturbance in the work of Third Text, we did manage to do something satisfactorily to meet these demands. There were of course disagreements about the nature of our relationship with the art establishment as I vigorously maintained my critical view of the official policies, producing some anxiety and friction among the staff, but they were never a serious problem. We all met every Friday for lunch and talked about whatever was there to talk about Third Text and its management. If there were some problems they were discussed and resolved amicably. I always maintained my attitude of tolerance, the friendliness of the office atmosphere, and Third Text came out regularly in time. There was no serious disturbance or any crisis of management until Ziauddin Sardar (ZS) started asserting his authority as the Chair of Trustees Board (TB) and interfering in the work of Black Umbrella and Third Text.

I’m extremely grateful to Jean Fisher, as well as other colleagues, who have tried to mediate with the Trustees Board of Black Umbrella and find a solution to the prevailing crisis of Third Text. But this attempt was bound to fail right from the beginning. The main issue had never been the management or mismanagement of Third Text, nor of the necessity for an alternative and more efficient way of running the journal. If there were some problems due to the informal way in which we ran the whole thing, they could have been easily resolved through discussion and dialogue. But the very process of exchange, dialogue and discussion needed for this was ignored by the authority of the Trustees Board. The issue, therefore, is not what the mediation attempt tried to resolve, by trying to salvage some of my work with Third Text, but the authority of the Trustees Board. What is this authority and for what purpose?

This authority was set up to facilitate the work of BU/Third Text, with the assumption that TB would recognize the primacy of what Third Text produced, and what it had pursued and achieved over the years, and then to draw its legitimacy from all this. However, it would be foolish not to recognize that TB also has its own legal authority. But the important question remains: could this legal authority alone serve the interest of Third Text? Without it being underpinned and supported by the legitimacy which is enshrined within the historical struggle of Third Text, how can it claim its own legitimacy? It is now clear that TB now is not only not interested in this struggle by recognizing it as the basis of its legitimacy, but has in fact been acting on the assumption that its legal authority is absolute and is enough to give legitimacy to whatever it does. The source of this authority is in fact in the very state whose institutions have been guilty of ignoring or suppressing the truth which Third Text has pursued over the years.

The Arts Council or ACE, as a cultural arm of the British state, plays a crucial role in this scenario. It provides support and funding to the creativity of culture, with its different and diverse art forms fundamental to the healthy intellectual life of society. But it also controls and contains what may confront or disturb the ideology or worldview of the state; and in doing so it tends to be oppressive, while hiding all this behind its benevolent, liberal façade. The struggle against racism in Britain is well known and well recognized. What is generally not recognized is the nature of racism of the art world or cultural establishment. However, my aim here is not to elaborate  on this, but to point to the difficulty of recognizing what is now known as ‘institutional racism’ which is often camouflaged by the benevolence of the cultural policies of the British state; mainly carried forward and implemented by the ACE.

It should, therefore, come as no surprise that there is little recognition of this fact by the ACE, let alone its own racism hidden behind its benevolent paternalism which is fundamental to its policy and agenda of ‘cultural diversity and racial equality’. What is most important here is to recognize that there are some Asian / African (or Afro-Caribbean) people who act as functionaries of the state and support its policies. In their ambition to be successful in their adopted country, they do not hesitate even to be part of the state which has not abandoned its colonial ambition to dominate and exploit the world (some African / Asian members of both the Labour and Conservative parties supported the invasion of Iraq – and Afghanistan). The struggle of Third Text, and its present predicament, must therefore be understood in the larger context of this neo-colonial state in which Africa /Asian people themselves are participants and collaborators.

ACE does, however, now recognize that ‘institutional racism’ is responsible for the absence of black (African / Asian) people as administrators from art organizations. To this effect, it now has a policy according to which its funded art organization must offer jobs to black people. I’m not against black people taking up administrative jobs in art – which are often minor and without any power –  but this not only distracts us from the real issue of institutional suppression or marginalization of what non-white people have achieved historically, in Britain and globally, in relation to and within the mainstream movements of modernism. My struggle has been against this institutional racism and its now benevolent agenda.  More specifically, the difficulties I faced with the ACE in this regard were expressed in the Trustees meeting in March 2011, to which Marjorie Allthorpe-Guyton arrogantly replied: “…you can leave Third Text and do something else”.

In my first communication to you, I had expressed my frustration in dealing with the rude behaviour of Yvie Andrews. She was perhaps only trying to squeeze some more money out of Third Text funds. And my angry outburst against Ms Andrews in the last week of June 2011 was an unfortunate occurrence, for which I would have apologized if there had been any opportunity of an exchange, discussion and mediation, which should have been the responsibility of the Trustees. In fact, the first item of the agenda for the meeting on 12th July 2011 was to discuss this matter, but TB did not fulfill this responsibility. Instead, it used this as an excuse or opportunity to do what had already been on the minds of some TB members some months earlier, particularly when I was told that I should “leave Third Text and do something else”.  It seems I was an obstacle which TB had to remove to make Third Text conform to the institutional agenda of the ACE. It is no wonder that ACE has gladly accepted my removal and continues to fund the journal run by those who see ACE as its partner.

I mentioned in the beginning that the position of TB is based only on lies, fabrications and deceptions. But, let me now give an example of how even the readership of Third Text is being deceived. Annie Coombes, one of the resigned members of EB, says: “I’m increasingly angry that they are still using the names of those of us who have resigned from the Editorial Board to bolster up the journal’s reputation”. (E-mail addressed to me, 23. 11. 2012) Indeed, most of the EB members did resign earlier this year, but their resignation was ignored and the editorial team continued, with support from TB, to hide it from its readership, as well as from ACE and Routledge. Even now in their response to Jean Fisher’s mediation attempts, TB continues to maintain this deception: “With the urgent requirement to maintain Third Text as a peer reviewed journal, the Executive Editor has already convened meetings with existing Editorial Board members and with their advice has approached potential new members”.  Who are the “existing Editorial Board members”? Are they not those who had resigned early this year and whose names are still being used against their will, as pointed out by Annie Coombes?  In fact, there has been no peer review of the journal, to be undertaken by members of EB, in the last two years or so. Is all this not a case of blatant deception?

My point about all this is not to repeat what I have already said in the past, but to focus on the fundamental problem. I’m obliged to focus on it because there could have not been any resolution or just agreement with TB without the recognition and solution of the problem which has to do with TB’s illegitimate stand or position which is being covered up by lies, fabrications and deceptions. In fact, this tactic of cover-up began right in the beginning when I was ousted from my position unilaterally by the bureaucratic authority of TB after which it took over the total control of Third Text. It now continues with this tactic to justify what has in fact been a bureaucratic imposition, legitimized by the bureaucracy of the very state against which Third Text struggled in pursuit of the truth which was suppressed by the state’s own institutions. Its main aim now is to put Third Text in the service of the institutional agenda of the Arts Council or ACE conforming to the state’s own cultural policies and programmes.

This is what TB itself has confessed, in response to Jean Fisher’s proposal: “ … his [Rasheed’s] resistance to necessary structural changes, required to meet Arts Council England and Charity Commission conditions and to put Third Text on a more stable footing, must be recognized”. There were no Charity Commission conditions which were ever invoked or violated; they were in fact violated by the four members of TB when they ignored the scheduled meeting on 12th July 2011 and instead met in a café. However, TB is right about my resistance to ACE’s all demands, which would have taken away what Third Text stood for, both historically and ideologically. The submission to its demands would have also been an infringement of its free pursuit of knowledge, through a scholarship which otherwise was not either available or institutionally suppressed. One of the demands of the ACE from us was to submit to its own view and agenda of cultural diversity and racial equality. It was so absurd that one could not help laughing at it, let alone follow it submissively.

It was unfortunate, or perhaps, it was my bad judgment (my life is full of bad judgments), that we allowed Marjorie Allthorpe-Guyton, an ex-officio of the Arts Council, to become a member of TB. It was she who began, as soon as she joined TB, to raise issues which were not there before. However, I should not blame her alone for what has happened to Third Text, as there was in fact already a desire of some members of TB (particularly Ziauddin Sardar) and the staff that we should not resist whatever is demanded of us by the ACE but must follow its cultural agenda. I have so far avoided pointing out that my relationship with the staff, and subsequently with TB, began to deteriorate after we accepted ACE’s offer to do a book on “cultural diversity” in 2008; which eventually was published in 2010 as a Third Text report under the title Beyond Cultural Diversity.  The reference to this project by TB in their response to Jean’s proposal is another example of their lies, as what follows below will show. It would also show what had really been behind the real reasons for my removal from Third Text.
Sometimes in 2008, two officers from the national office of Arts Council England – Hassan Mahamdallie and Tony Panayiotou – approached us for a meeting.  (Actually, an email in my computer tells me that I was personally approached in October 2008 by Hassan Mahamdallie for a meeting, as he had read and admired my views on cultural diversity; and I then invited them to come to Third Text office and meet all the staff.). When they came and met us they were full of admiration for the work of Third Text and our views about cultural diversity (in fact mine, as no one else had done any work in this respect. This is what Mahamdallie in his first email to me says: “I have a copy of your speech from your symposium where you talk about ‘offering within mainstream art and [sic] integrated multiracial model which must be institutionally recognized for the future of this society.”)  They also admitted that they were not happy with ACE’s official policy and agenda about “cultural diversity”, and wanted us to help them formulate and create an alternative model. I don’t remember now who proposed the idea of a book, but both the ACE’s officers agreed to the idea and the meeting ended with an understanding that I would do the book funded by the ACE. In fact, soon after we received the money for research work and for the preliminary gathering of published material, I began to work on it and soon produced the first list of writers with some already published material and sent them to the ACE’s officers for their comments. To my surprise they threw out one important article without any critical exchange and discussion with me. This was not a good omen, but I ignored it and continued with more work. After I had a comprehensive list of writers and the available written material, they were sent to the ACE’s officers.  I then approached them for a meeting which took place sometime in 2009 in the national office of the Arts Council England. I went there accompanied by Richard Appignanesi (whom I had by now invited to be my co-editor) and Yvie Andrews (to whom I handed over its management and communication with ACE). But this meeting was a disaster; as both the officers began dictating their own terms.  They not only rejected half of the material but suggested that the editing of the accepted material must be approved by them. I had no choice but to argue against this shockingly unexpected turn and the whole thing became a heated exchange between me and the two officers.  At one point, Mahmadallie shouted at me: “Why do you hate us, why you hate the Arts Council?”, while both Appignanesi and Ms Andrews sat there in silence. The meeting ended without any resolution.

Back in the office after few days, I spoke about my disappointment to Appignanesi. His response was that we had no choice but to follow their dictate; his buzzword since had been “compromise”. I then told him that I wanted to abandon the project, as I would not compromise in this respect. His answer was that I should not do this as Third Text was vulnerable to the ACE’s funding cuts; which put me in a dilemma. To get out of this dilemma I handed over the whole thing to Appignanesi, which he gladly accepted. What happened next is a long story of the ACE’s constant interference and censorship, to the extent that my own main article was cut down according to direct instructions from Mahmadallie, to which Appignanesi offered little resistance. As I had, however, already agreed to do the concluding article, jointly with Appignanesi, he constantly pestered me to do the first draft (as he didn’t know what to do in this respect). So I produced the first draft of ‘What’s to be Done?” with nine or ten recommendations. Then I handed it over to Appignanesi with a suggestion that he could elaborate my points. But what he did, instead, was shocking. He not only messed up the whole thing but added to it totally irrelevant material. When I asked him why he did this, his answer was: “Mahmadallie asked me to do it”. Eventually, it was not only this article which was published without my name on it; the whole thing was published as Appignanesi’s book.

Let us now see what TB says in this respect: “The collegial relationship of the Trustees, Third Text Executive Editor and Managing Editor with senior Arts Council England officers has maintained ACE funding for Third Text [who did it secure for 23 years?]. It led to a significant partnership with ACE and the commissioning of the Third Text Report, Beyond Cultural Diversity [the title was actually coined by me], compiled and edited by the current Executive Editor, in 2010.” The most significant word here is “partnership”, which explains everything. This episode surrounding the publication of the book Beyond Cultural Diversity is fundamental to the understanding of my dismissal from Third Text.
I have already described the sequence of the events in my long letter to Lord Parekh, one of the members of TB, a copy of which I sent to you when I informed you about my dismissal. My point about all this is now to show you what has been the real background to my removal from the running of Third Text; and why TB had waged a smear campaign – with its lies, fabrications and deceptions – against me since; and it has continued this even in its response to Jean Fisher’s attempt at a mediation and reconciliation.

I know you have already decided to resign and support the struggle of Third Text, for which I’m grateful to you in the spirit of comradeship. This struggle is not over; and I’m determined to find other means to continue the struggle with your support and participation. I have already been offered some means to start a new journal, or resurrect Third Text in some other form. But I must wait till this disturbing and painful episode of my life is over, in order to take the next step.

With my warmest gratitude and best wishes,

Rasheed Araeen