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Grace Ndiritu
'Shamans act like a gateway; they take on a problem from the community and can transcend it. Artists can be like that. Art is a powerful force; and if used in the correct way, it can be really transformative.' GN.

Grace Ndiritu came to video by an indirect route. At Winchester School of Art, she studied textiles art, but it soon became apparent that she wasn't interested in designing fabrics. She was too politically engaged (and too astute) to enter the commercial sector. Her degree show consisted of the Free Store, an installation resembling a shop display, inspired by Joseph Beuys. The antithesis of the commercialism underpinning the fashion industry, the shop displayed brown paper carrier bags that contained items which were new, old, rich and poor, alongside stones printed with the word 'potential'. All were all to be given away for free. Thus 'by rejecting an economic structure that promotes the importance of objects by their cost', reads the text printed on the bags, 'this collection tries instead to visualise a 'spiritual' economy...(based on) the Tibetan belief that every object has a spiritual content, perhaps even a soul.'

Viewers were also given a questionnaire that, by inverting the norms, reveals the bias of the supposedly neutral statistics gleaned in this way. Under race/ethnic origin, the choice is 'Asian, Oriental, Black, Latin American, Native American, Aboriginal, other' so that whites find themselves categorised as alien outsiders. Under 'Gender', females and transsexuals are given centre stage, while men are marginalised. 'Questionnaires basically divide identity into categories of ''them'' and ''us'',' reads the accompanying text, 'and can, perhaps, perpetuate stereotypes and inequality.'

The questionnaire would seem angrily confrontational if it weren't so extreme; absurdity reduces the element of challenge, but also makes the piece more insidious. Humour also characterises a mail-out sent to randomly selected households in Birmingham. Having shaved off her abundant dreadlocks, Ndiritu placed a lock of hair in each envelope with an explanatory letter: ' ''Haircut'' is dedicated to you and your family, because we believe that your household could benefit from this gesture... For many people hair is another category by which 'others' can be stereotyped by their gender, age, race, religion, socio-economic status, sexual and political orientation and, most significantly, their aesthetic beauty. However.... by accepting that sometimes HAIR IS JUST HAIR, we celebrate commonality and begin to change the values by which people perceive one another....' I like to imagine the bemused recipients opening their envelopes and responding with dismay, disgust, suspicion or pleasure to this unsolicited gift.

Image taken from artist's mood-board
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