Art and Identity Politics

featuring Rosie Kay, Alastair Donald and Bronisław Wildstein

Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art invites you to join the fifth discussion within the Culture Tensions series. In this cycle of public conversations with artists, writers, curators, and thinkers we hope to offer fresh, diverse perspectives on the pressing issues of our times. This time we will host Rosie Kay, Alastair Donald and Bronisław Wildstein. What will be the subject of this debate?

How tolerant is the progressive left? How willing are they to seek mutual understanding and respectfully coexist with others and accentuate each other’s advantages while acknowledging that cultural tensions exist? Society works best when we find common ground, but identity politics has created a dangerous, exclusionary, and divisive alliances based upon race, gender, and cultural and religious background.

The ongoing cultural war reached a particularly ugly climax following the attempted murder of the novelist Salman Rushdie by a 25-year-old US-born male of Lebanese background. It took place on Friday 12 August 2022, on stage, at the Chautauqua Institution in Western New York. Rushdie was about to give a talk about the USA being a safe haven for exiled writers. When the author of bestselling Harry Potter novels, J.K. Rowling expressed her shock upon hearing about the attack on Twitter, she received a response from a male Muslim, "Don’t worry you are next." Rowling has received many death and sexual assault threats from trans rights activists and allies after expressing her concerns about the huge explosion of young women wishing to transition and also increasing numbers who seem to be detransitioning and presumably now regret surgically and hormonally erasing their female biological anatomy.

Any critical response against Islam or transgenderism results in censorious and damaging accusations of Islamophobia or transphobia. If someone doesn’t follow the correct brand of anti-racism, they are labelled racist or racism enabler. Since 1989, when, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa condemning Salman Rushdie to death for alleged blasphemy in his novel The Satanic Verses, we have seen what the writer Kenan Malik has called the internalization of the fatwa. Society is clamping down on freedom of expression for fear of offending minority identity groups.

The art world has been quick to censor, cancel, disinvite, and attack artists and writers while not with a knife or gun who go against the grain of identity politics or who are critical of the current religious-like holy trinity of race, gender, and Islam: trans-exclusionary radical feminist artists (TERFs) have particularly felt the brunt. Our guest panellist, choreographer, and dancer Rosie Kay is one of numerous women in the arts who’ve experienced cancel culture for expressing the common-held view that a woman is a woman.

Black and Asian writers who reject what the black American scholar and linguist John McWhorter has termed Woke Racism, are viewed as traitors and Uncle Toms. Meanwhile, ex-Muslims or Muslim reformists who criticize Islam are viewed as heretics, apostates, and infidels. Trevor Phillips, former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (2007-2012), introduced into Britain’s political lexicon in 1997 the term Islamophobia a term which he is now highly critical of.

Identity politics has become increasingly intersectional an oppression Olympics between the politics of gender, race, sexual orientation, religion and disability, with the straight white male as the ultimate bogeyman symbol of oppression. This is evidenced by art commissioners Artichoke’s invitation to artists to create billboards in response to the phrase, Straight White Male.

Is identity-based politics a force for good in the art world and society for tackling systemic oppression? Or is it a sideshow manipulated by the media and elites to distract us from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the failure of the free market, and the global cost of living crisis? Does identity politics lead to good art being produced? Or has identity-based or woke politics produced what McWhorter calls a reign of terror?

During our panel will be discussing these important questions. There will be plenty of time for audience participation and a Q&A session. Please join us.


  • Curators
    • Manick Govinda
    • Agnieszka Kołek
  • Cover photo
    • Tasleem Mulhall, The Silence, 2014


  • About the debate
    • Admission is free.
    • English-speaking guests may join the debate live on → YouTube
Event connected with:
Culture Tensions
Discussion financed by
Media partners