Features Editor Jeevan Farthing eloquently reviews Bring Me To Heal, the multi-medium exhibition running at Tramway until 6 March 2022.
It’s our ability to heal, or lack thereof, that determines our ability to forge human connection. Amartey Golding underlines this in his exhibition Bring Me To Heal, elaborating upon Joy DeGruy’s thesis of post-traumatic slave syndrome to explore the impact of intergenerational trauma on the political injustice and interpersonal hatred that bubbles underneath 21st century race relations.
A cavernous and dimly lit room in Glasgow’s Tramway hosts a bricolage of Golding’s work. This includes a garment made completely out of human hair, as well as two short films depicting the identity crisis of a young protagonist played by Golding’s brother Solomon. Place is paramount in any exploration of identity, and the two settings in the two films are adept because they emphasise the role of gatekeeping in sustaining place-based racial prejudice. In the first, Solomon is raised nomadically in the darkness of the countryside, yet Gypsy Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities, for whom this way of life remains fundamental, are met with the starkest inequalities of any ethnic group, while having their own intergenerational trauma to reckon with: the Roma Holocaust. Gatekeeping was also apparent in the online harassment experienced by Muslim hikers just last year. So as Solomon’s elders braid and tell stories around the campfire, handing him the exquisite jewellery box containing five varieties of crisps (crisps and countryside were mentioned by David Lammy MP, in his rebuttal of twitter accounts gatekeeping his ability to identify as English), it’s worth remembering that the denial of these spaces to marginalised and traumatised communities also denies them their healing.
“Place is paramount in any exploration of identity, and the two settings in the two films are adept because they emphasise the role of gatekeeping in sustaining place-based racial prejudice.”
In the second film, the V&A encapsulates ancient British history, so Solomon’s interaction with the Altarpiece of St George while wearing a braided garment represents an intertwining of Golding’s heritages. Golding and I are both mixed-race: he has an Anglo-Scottish mother, Ghanaian father and Jamaican stepfather, while I have an Indian mother and Welsh father. Golding “never saw himself as an English boy”, while his collaborator Darren Gayle “had never even heard of the V&A” before embarking on this project. Preconceptions of not belonging manifest themselves in this self-exclusion of traumatised communities from British institutions, with the effect of gatekeeping a British identity.
Perhaps this self-exclusion is an act of self-preservation. The innocent Solomon finds himself breaking down as he is exposed to the slaughters portrayed on the Altarpiece of St George. His absorption is utterly passive, and there’s an almost wicked fatalism to it all. This corrupting entity, his heritage, cannot be erased from his conscience, and he emerges from the V&A forlorn and tainted. Golding’s use of inversion – the braided garment is not the corrupting entity here – encourages the audience to adopt a structural analysis of intergenerational trauma, as it is reinforced and regenerated only to structurally disadvantaged groups by the institutions we know and want to love.
“The innocent Solomon finds himself breaking down as he is exposed to the slaughters portrayed on the Altarpiece of St George.”
Let’s return to the first film, the darkness of the countryside, and the symbolism intricately deployed by Golding as his fable of the horse and the goose is gently told to Solomon. A goose caught in a horse’s mane has its suffering prolonged as the horse carries on running, so the goose is left hurting. It affirms the counter-productivity of prejudice, asking: “Have you not crossed the oceans more times than your legs can count?” The goose pleads, “What did we do to you…stop, stop” as it finds itself prey to this repetitious and mechanistic infliction of harm not dissimilar from recent incidents of racialised policing. The horse justifies its psychopathy through the repetition of one phrase, “if you don’t run you get run down”, representing this warped approach to trauma that manifests itself in conflict and hatred. In a film discussing his project, Golding emphasises that “if you have a disconnect from your generational trauma, that makes you more dangerous”. This is the modus operandi of extremists. They foster the deflection of trauma into blame-oriented anger, forging manufactured divisions between vulnerable groups. It is the antithesis of healing, and Burnley, Bradford and Oldham showed us the consequences.
“This is the modus operandi of extremists. They foster the deflection of trauma into blame-oriented anger, forging manufactured divisions…”
Golding’s exhibition is so pertinent because intergenerational trauma continues to infiltrate personal and political realms. My mum has spent over 95% of her life in this country, but she’ll always identify as British Asian, not British. She grew up in Hounslow in the 1970s, and the killings of Gurdip Singh Chaggar and Blair Peach undoubtedly compounded the intergenerational trauma of those South Asian communities living nearby. I’m still not really sure where I stand with my identity, but Golding’s work introduced a powerful new perspective to consider.
Public health has also felt the ramifications of intergenerational trauma. Vaccine hesitancy among many ethnic minority groups has been, among other factors, traced to unethical health experiments like the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. This is all the more tragic because these same groups are disproportionately dying from Covid-19, so refusing the vaccine withstands all logic. It emphasises that trauma is a raw and painful human emotion, so of course its manifestations won’t be detached or empirical.
The exhibition offered an all-encompassing and perceptive insight into intergenerational trauma, and it was difficult not to feel overwhelmed upon leaving. But it was the words of the late Jo Cox MP that kept coming to mind, that we have “more in common than that which divides us”. Golding shows us that we can actualise this if we allow ourselves to heal.
Bring Me To Heal is on exhibition at Tramway until 6 March 2022.