As we look forward to Wales Arts International’s key event of this year, WAI head Eluned Haf discusses themes that will be addressed in the International Forum on 10 July 2018, at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff, and sets out a vision for re-imagining Wales in the eyes of the world.
Wales is “almost an island” says the musician Gruff Rhys in his film, American Interior. Rhys follows the footsteps of his forefather, another cultural warrior John Evans of Waunfawr, who in the 1792 set sail for America looking for a Welsh speaking tribe of First Nation people. Whether Madog indeed settled with First Nation people in America in 1170 or not, he inspired John Evans to explore those early international relations by Wales. That spirit of curiosity, exploration and cultural engagement survives in the Welsh artistic psyche.
Speaking of John Evans to Rhys, First Nation elder Keith Boar comments on screen, “It doesn’t matter what you look like on the outside, it’s what you have on the inside that we use to help to communicate. That’s what a warrior is about among our people.”
Quality, courage and respect – those are great values for international cultural engagement.
As we take to the seas once again to forge new relationships, it’s worth remembering that our unique cultural context resonates with many other minority cultures and marginalised people. The historical cultural oppression experienced by Wales in the past can still be used in international power struggles. Others around the world can relate to our own cultural struggle over the years. In the UK our linguistic experience is unique.
Contemporary artists and cultural champions around the world navigate challenging scenarios to develop meaningful international careers. Supporting routes to new audiences, international stages, showcases and markets for these artists is important. These routes are varied, collaborative and usually involve a number of people who provide support services for artists to develop their talent internationally through exchanges, residencies and showcases.
Providing a window on this talent internationally at key showcase events is important but so is investing in the talent behind the scenes.There is certainly untapped potential to maximise.
A holistic approach could enable our artists and companies to forge sustainable international careers and grow new markets. It could also inspire and invest in future generations and being globally responsible as well as providing our nation a sound international reputation.
Whatever your view of Brexit, Wales must now re-define who we are in the world. To avoid the cultural traps of an island mentality it’s worth remembering that Wales is, as T.H. Parry Williams describes in his poem Hon, a “cilcyn o ddaear mewn cilfach gefn” or, as Rhys says “almost an island”, within an island, in a changing continent in an uncertain world.
As we mark 100 years since the end of the First World War, growing peaceful relations between peoples and communities in Wales and their relationship with the world is now more important than ever. Historical hangovers throw new challenges on our diverse communities as recently experienced by the Windrush generation.
The impact of cultural colonialism and the opportunity to de-colonise the arts is an urgent priority debated worldwide as it will be at the Wales Arts International Forum.Guest speaker Tunde Adefioye will challenge all to decolonise imagination through his Critical Ten Point Plan to Creating Professional Sectors that Reflect Society. Cardiff’s Gentle Radical Rabab Ghazoul asks us to “avoid perpetuating the cultural colonialism of the past and looks to develop cultural exchange an equitable way.”
Wales Arts International’s values of chwarae teg andthe croeso cynnes which displays a generosity of spirit that underpins Welsh cultural life is shared by cultures all over the world and can surely help us all to navigate the swollen seas ahead.
Wales Arts International Forum will take place at Chapter Arts Centre, 9.30-16.00, 10 July 2018. It will also be streamed live on Facebook.
Recommended for you: Head of the Arts in Wales for the British Council Rebecca Gould explores the importance of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for those Welsh companies with productions up there this year, and argues for the far reaching power of the international showcase.