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Painters of Colour

André Derain
Henri Matisse 1905 
Tate
© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021

Fauvism is an art movement that was started in the 20th century by a group of artists who felt that vibrant and complementary colours, and painterly skills such as strong brush strokes were more important than realistic representations of the world. A famous fauvist was Henri Matisse. His partner in crime was André Derain. Both artists left a legacy of work, many of which decorate the walls of museums and collectors’ homes today. 

The year was 1905. It was the salon d’automne once more. Paris was flooded with art lovers, art enthusiasts and art critics. Louis Vauxcelles was in Paris that year on the look out for refreshing new styles to write about. His eye rested on the canvasses of Matisse and Derain. These painters are like wild beasts, thought Vauxcelles, and he called them les fauves

Were the artists savage beasts painting portraits by wildly throwing bright colours on the canvas? Or were they simply artists who understood that colours work well in pairs, especially when they contrast one another, yet complement each other? Colour theory was already in existence when Matisse and Derain spent a summer in Collioure, where they experimented with a new way of painting people and landscape. They took the science of colour theory up many notches. 

Their pieces were not only abstract, they were bold, and they hit one’s eyes with an array of complementary colours that looked like they were freshly squeezed out of their tubes. A dab of green here, one over there, but this time red, an emphatic yellow stroke around here, another one of violet to contour the face. And, we have a man. The art world had never seen anything quite like this before the 1905 salon d’automne. It drove the people wild. 

People of Colour

As a joke, I often call les fauves people of colour, because they were. These were painters who understood colour theory: how colours complement and contrast one another. They saw how red and green (a mix of yellow and blue) marry well. And if they mixed red and blue, the result was a shade of violet and this complemented yellow. They knew their primary colours — Red, Yellow, Blue, and their secondary colours — Orange, Green, Violet. And if they mixed the three primary colours, they saw Black. White was formed also by mixing the three primaries, and by adding more and more colours, lightening the mixture until a white paste was formed. It was basic, they thought — elementary. Colours are what we see around us, they said. Why not use them to our advantage by making riveting pieces of art? So, the two artists spent the summer in the South of France, where the light is always exquisitely ample and the landscape marvellously sprinkled with different shades of colours, squeezing tubes of paint onto canvasses, dabbing them with primary colours and brushing secondary colours next to the primary ones. 

Mixing colours — this, I promise you, is a fun game for kids on a rainy day. If you’re gonna make a mess, make sure it’s a colourful one. 

I am a person of colour. Alas, I am no artist. Only a person who is not white, therefore, always known as a POC. This acronym sits very uncomfortably in my stomach, where I would love to regurgitate it and flush it down the loo forever. In the colour wheel of racism, there is white, black and brown. As someone of Chinese lineage, I am yellow. But it is not P-C to call an East Asian yellow anymore. So, in the US, I am a person of colour, and in the UK, I am known as a minority ethnic person (BAME). 

Karl Schmidt-Rottluff
Dr Rosa Schapire 1919 
Tate
© DACS, 2021

How does all this make sense, you ask? 

Well, it doesn’t. Not to me anyway. I can understand and respect it if someone of African lineage wants to be known as Black. Not all Black people are Americans, so not all Black people are African-Americans. Like not all brown people are from India. Many are from Pakistan or Bangladesh or even countries like Malta and Madagascar. They could even be from Zimbabwe (once named Rhodesia), Kenya, Malaysia, and/or Singapore. As for East Asians, we are so many — Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans, and those of us who are from dual-parentage families. Not all are Asian-Americans, Canadian-Chinese or even British-Chinese, nor do all East Asians come from China or Japan or Korea. Many are from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and countries in Southeast Asia like Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia. Let’s not forget Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and French Polynesia. And I can tell you that the ethnic Chinese in Southeast Asia are more brown than yellow. But I digress, as always.

Where was I? Ah — les fauves. Fauvism faded away after 1910. The movement developed around the same time as German Expressionism, proving that ideas are not original and that great minds think alike. Fauvism opened the doors to Cubism, and made many things in art possible, like Pointillism and Structuralism.

So, how now brown cow? 

I say we get rid of the acronyms POC and BAME. Let’s begin afresh and just call people people. Humankind, rather than the Human Race. We can pull humankind apart and start by being kind to another human being. And yes, human being, a person simply being. After we’ve processed this term, let’s then race to tear down the colour bar that keeps us apart, segregating people into different shades of colour for the purpose of maintaining the status quo and hegemony of those of us White and those of them Coloured.

Have you noticed that a White person is never a person of colour? And that it is ok to say someone is black or brown, but never yellow? Red, too, is long gone a colour to call someone who is indigenous to the land. And, it is faux pas to categorise someone who is native to their countries/nations as ‘Indian’, a term used by white colonisers to label people who were not from India, but thought to be so. Language evolves with time, and I feel it’s time to rid the English language of phrases like people of colour and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic. I am feverish with desire to put a stop to being labeled a minority ethnic and a person of colour. Minority ethnic? My ancestors come from the most populated nation in the world — China. If all of them spoke English as their mother tongue, they would outnumber the mother tongue English speakers on our globe. So, next to South Asians, I am hardly a minority. And, yellow I am definitely not. I’d like to think I am a little bronzed with a hint of gold myself. But then, we’re back to colouring ourselves again. So, no! Stop already!  

Here’s a piece of flash fiction inspired by a condition known as Yellow Fever. A condition that I heard a white woman speak about during my sojourn in Southeast Asia. 

As long as we, non-white people, continue to use the label POC or BAME to identify ourselves, we are continuing the colonial legacy of these labels, giving them the power and significance that they shouldn’t have and hold. As much as I understand that race is and will continue to be one’s identity, much like mother/father or being trans, cis or bi are identity markers, I feel that ridding the English language of POC and BAME, we start to break the conditions that fetter us, and remove the status quo that keeps some of us marginalised and underrepresented. In this way, we also start to get rid of racial stereotypes or stereotypes of any sorts, and then, one day, see the removal of any unconscious racial biases or prejudices that plague us. This would free humans to just be. And, we start to become human beings, not coloured and (post)-colonised beings. Don’t you want this as much as I do? 

And whilst we’re at it, let’s also remove the acronym WOC — Writers of Colour. I am a writer, like every person who writes for a living — simply a writer. I am not defined by colour as a writer. But I can certainly write many colourful stories that paint the world red and orange, yellow and green, blue, indigo and violet too.

Blog

Year Of Change

Image borrowed from Bristol Old Vic

How to make changes during pandemic and post

I can’t believe that we’re almost at the end of February. It seems like time has flown by under lockdown. The Chinese have just entered the Year of the Ox. And feng shui experts promise a strong year of change.

As England eases up on our uniformed incarceration, the mood is buoyant. Articles galore are being circulated around the globe on how wonderful summer of ’21 is looking. Hang on! We are not there yet, but we can hope as we project into the future; hope for change. There is hope too in the UK publishing world as Bonnier Books reveals their inaugural Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan. They and the UK are moving and shaking to make changes to include more diverse voices and people in publishing. About time! 

As most of us in the industry who are not White know, the focus hasn’t always been on us. Yes, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic, People of Colour writers, have existed for the longest time: there are books written by freed slaves (mostly in the USA) that have been mentioned by Toni Morrison, tomes penned by Chinese philosophers and thinkers (all in Chinese but many have been translated into English), and in the modern world, fiction written in English by greats like Tash Aw, Amy Tan, and Tan Twan Eng, there is still a gap in the market that needs to be filled. Patience is the key to seeing change happen for “meaningful change takes time and doesn’t happen in isolation.” But Perminder Mann, c.e.o. of Bonnier Books says that she and her team are committed to more meaningful and prolonged engagement and collaboration to make change happen. I salute them. 

On the home front: As folks know, I am a committed agent of change. There are many reasons why and the biggest one of all is that CHANGE makes us BETTER people. Why be stuck in antiquity? 

On the writing front: I have been prolific in my writing under pandemic. I know that this hasn’t been easy for many writers who have to deal with WFH, home-schooling kids, and being locked down and in small spaces. Don’t be hard on yourselves—choose self-love. For those of us with half empty nests, the lockdown has kept us busy so that we don’t lose our sanity. So, I wrote and wrote reams and reams. Writing helps me find catharsis. But there are other ways to find release as well. 

On the change front: You don’t have to write new stuff. Revising old stuff is also writing. I revised an old manuscript that had been sitting in my computer drawer for ages. I couldn’t find the mojo to finish it under the first lockdown in Singapore. Under my third lockdown in England, I rescued it from my musty computer drawer and worked on it. I shared it with some writer friends in my community and after they’d given me their feedback, I revised it again. Then I found the courage to submit it to an agent who rejected it. No matter. I am an agent of change. So I changed the story a little bit more and I sent it to another agent. This time I got a ‘I love it’ email, are you up for a chat? Now, I’m working with an agent to make changes in the book market in the UK.

Change doesn’t happen overnight. But it won’t happen if you don’t decide to affect change. 

Change happens on several levels and here are three:

  • Choose to change;
  • Vote for change;
  • Make change happen.

Get those pens or ‘puters out and write those stories and be prepared to change them. Then write that query letter and send them out. Here is a list of literary agents in the UK that may like your work. It only takes one. 

Make Change Happen.

I am available for one-to-one consultations and mentoring. I want to help you make that change. Connect with me @evawongnava on Instagram and Twitter. Email me: enquiries@evawongnava.com.

Blog

Twitter Pitch Parties anyone? What happens when you have the jitters and the twitches?

I just took part in my second Twitter Pitch yesterday, folks. Seriously this time. It was #DVpit. This is for agents and editors looking for diverse manuscripts or stories written by people who identify #POC [#BAME in the UK]. It is serious business. So, I took it seriously this second time round. It’s not to say that I wasn’t serious when I took part the first time round. I was dead serious then. I just didn’t understand the rules the first time round. I seriously have a problem when there are too many rules. And I have a problem when they say [TL:DR]:

“How many times can I pitch?

Each USER is allowed UP TO 6 #DVpit pitches per project, which cannot be tweeted more than once per hour regardless. You don’t need to use all 6 opportunities. If you have 4 good pitches, that’s fine. If you only want to send out 1 pitch—also fine. We recognize that this is confusing, so here are some examples:

ex1. You have 1 project to pitch. Options: you could pitch once every other hour over the whole 12-hr period; OR pitch once per hour over 3 hours in the morning, and once each hour for 3 hours in the afternoon. There will be 6 of the 12 hours during which you cannot pitch in #DVpit at all.

ex2. You have 2 #DVpit projects, up to 6 pitches for each. You could alternate pitches for them each hour; OR pitch 1 project over 6 hours in the morning, and the other over 6 hours in the afternoon. In either case, you pitch ONCE per hour, using up to the maximum 6 per project over the 12hr event.

ex3. Let’s say you have 3 #DVpit projects. You can only pitch once per hour, so you have to divvy up those 12 opportunities to your projects. Options: you could do 6 for project A + 3 each for projects B & C; OR 4 each; OR 2 for project A, 4 for project B, and 6 for project C.

Just remember that your twitter account cannot pitch into the #DVpit feed more than once per hour. Which project you choose each hour is up to you, as long as no single project exceeds 6. This is to keep the feed less cluttered and more fair.”

I read all the rules and I read this particular one a few times. And I realised that I’d failed elementary school maths and can’t do the sums. So, how many times can I twitch, I mean pitch twitch? Or was it tweet pitch? How many times again? Please bear with me on this. Maths whizzes know it’s easy. But if you’ve lived with numerophobia all your life, it’s hard when you read a rule with such intense and focused numerical sense that don’t make sense to you.

Anyhooo, I asked a bunch of very helpful friends in my writing community who had participated in twitter pitch conferences before and they told me “6 x per MS and at 1 hour intervals only”. That explained it. 

So I sent my pitches into the twitching tweeting universe. 

I had two. That is two manuscripts. So I spaced them out between the hours of 8 am – 8 pm EST, which is Eastern Standard Time. That just means 8 in the morning to 8 in the evening New York time. 

But first, what is a twitter pitch conference? 

  • It all started with #PitMad. This was the original twitter pitch event or conference for unpublished manuscripts and writers who are unagented or agented. 
  • The event happens every quarterly according to a schedule based on EDT (Eastern Daylight Time)/ Spring-Summer or EST (Eastern Standard Time)/ Autumn-Winter.
  • Hashtags are used to denote different categories: #DVpit for Diversity Pitch #PBPitch for Picture Book Pitch #CB for Children’s Books, etc., etc. There is now a #BVM hashtag for Black Writers and Illustrators. [YAY] 

If you’re a children’s book writer like me, you’d want to look out for #PBPitch which is open to all picture book writers 3 times a year: February, June, and October. The next one is on October 29th, Thursday from 8 am to 8 pm EST. 

Here are the rules.

If you’re a person of colour or someone from a marginalised or under-represented community, you’d want to look out for #DVpit. I took part in #DVpit because I identify #BAME or #POC. DVPit is open to ALL diverse creators or writers, working on ALL genres writing for children, YA or adult. Do look out for the dates as there are two days for different genres and age groups, and for writers and illustrators. 

Here are the rules.

I made a couple of boo-boos, like retweeting someone’s tweet with a comment because someone had done that for me and I wanted to pay back in kind. Apparently, participants are not allowed to retweet. You can comment inside their tweet but not retweet with a comment. That was where I misunderstood. Only editors can retweet. These are editors who like your pitch but will only work with agented authors, so I was told. 

You definitely cannot like or heart ❤ a tweet cos that is the reserve of agents or editors. You’re meant to reply sans hashtags if you want to show support; see above about not retweeting.

Well, I’m learning along the way, as they say. 

I don’t know about you but Twitter gives me the jitters, to be honest. There are some real serious trolls out there waiting to get ya. But thankfully, people just laughed my boos-boos off. And, frankly, nobody has the energy to tell you off, cos at the end of it, you’re meant to know what to…read the rules, and don’t be so zealous like me in wanting to boost other people’s tweets. 

What came out of all this, you ask. The good news is that I got a genuine like or <3. Why genuine? It was a like from an editor, who then asked to read my manuscript. How did I know that? I went to find out who ❤ my twitch and that’s that. And I scrolled down her tweets where she said that “if I like your pitch, it means I’m interested to read your manscript. Please DM me.” 

I wouldn’t go private messaging the editor/ agent if they had not tweeted for the author to do that. I’d just go check out their website for submission guidelines and type in DVpit in the subject line. Nobody likes being stalked, editors and agents no less.

So I sent my manuscript to this editor after I’d DM-ed her to ask how I can submit, and she has confirmed receipt of it. So, you see, this was how serious I was about taking part in #DVpit, and because I was serious, the Universe sent out positive vibes, unlike the first time when I took part. So, don’t make the mistake I did the first time round—join in for the fun of it. I’m not saying you mustn’t have fun. Because FUN + PASSION = ENJOYMENT.

#DVpit is now over and I can’t wait to take part in the next one cos the fun of it all is in composing the tweets in 280 characters. It’s an exercise in precision and concision

Here was what I’d tweeted and pitched for one story. 

When a little girl longs for her grandma’s dumplings, but her grandma can no longer cook, she discovers that faith and love are enduring. This 389-word #PB explores the relationship between an unnamed protagonist and their grandma.  #DVPit #OWN [this one got me a like but I’ve decided not to pursue this like for personal reasons.]

Like a Tai Chi dance, an unnamed protagonist must grapple with her grandma’s fading breath. DANCING DUMPLINGS FOR MY ONE AND ONLY, a 389-word story that charts the relationship between a child and their grandma rises and falls with each breath. #DVpit #poc #own

You’ve got it! 

Good luck! 

credit: PB Pitch Website