Labour may have lost the election, but the landscape of politics is definitely changing, if Labour get their act together they could be in with a feasible chance next time round armed with an exciting, fresh crop of elected MPs from ethnically diverse backgrounds. Case in point George Galloway's spectacular, if not controversial and currently contested, defeat by Naz Shah who clinched the Bradford constituency.
Never have there been so many elected Asian women in government. Seeing Baroness Sayeedi Warsi serve under the last coalition government and Rushanari Ali, the first woman of Bangladeshi origin to be elected in 2010 (with a majority of 11,574 votes) to the House of Commons has paved the way for a spate of young, dynamic, intelligent Asian women trying their hand at politics. A staggering total of 11 Bangladeshi potential candidates campaigned for election. Three Bangladeshi women, Tulip Siddiq, Rushnara Ali and Rupa Huq were all successful.
The lawyer Rupa Huq, little sister of former Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq, took London's Ealing Central and Acton seat from the Conservatives polling a total of 22,002 votes while her closest rival from the Conservative Party, Angie Bray, got 21,728 votes. The margins were tight to say the least.
Tulip Siddiq received 23,977 votes against her Conservative counterpart Simon Marcus's 22,839 votes helping her to clinch the Hampstead and Kilburn constituency. Her campaign was not exempt from controversy or 'mud-slinging' - her words. And if you analyse the stats it was not a stroll in the park for either of them, it was incredibly close and could have gone either way. Both were hard fought contests and laudable victories - hats off to them both.
Drawing of east London taken from my book, From Briarwood to Barisal to Brick Lane, part of a London Arts Board funded book, film and international art project, 2001
Rushanara Ali was elected MP for a second time by her Bethnal Green and Bow constituency in east London, by a massive 25,000 majority and this was after tendering her resignation over military air strikes against Isis in Iraq. Her resignation was perceived as a sign of integrity not weakness. Just as Baroness's Warsi's resignation from the coalition government made her stance clear; these women are no pushovers that's for sure. Ali's victory might be deemed predictable looking at the strong Bangladeshi/Sylheti demographic of the Tower Hamlets region, but without question she has returned stronger and more popular than ever.
Drawing of Paikpora, Dhaka, Bangladesh, From Briarwood to Barishal to Brick Lane 2001, (pen and ink on paper), a project, which explored the blurring of geographical boundaries across New York, London and Bangladesh
All three are formidable women with serious credentials. Politics clearly flows in Tulip's blood; she is the granddaughter of Bangladesh's Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and niece of Bangladesh's current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Mr Rahman rose up against the oppressive Pakistani ruling regime post partition, which led to the bloody war of 1971, in which 3 million were killed (a genocide of the most horrific nature) leading to the creation of Bangladesh. 'Desh' is the Bengali word for land, which translates as the land of the Bangla people, (Bangla is our mother tongue).
Bangladeshis are some of the most resilient and resourceful people I know and I can't help but feel a sense of pride at this trio of victories, which is also being celebrated at home as well as Bangladesh itself.
Tea Gardens of Sylhet, (acrylic ink on paper), From Briarwood to Barisal To Brick Lane, 2001
But it's simply not enough that they are elected and voted in these women have to make a tangible difference by engaging at a grassroots level. I tweeted Ms Ali directly inviting her to my forthcoming show at Rich Mix on 4th June the main theme of which is postpartum psychosis. Mental health is a massive problem in the Tower Hamlets borough across all age groups, from psychosis precipitated by smoking skunk by teenage Bengali boys (I still remember the pungent stench of it as I walked down Cheshire Street) to depression and other forms of mental illness that are rife in the community. My former psychiatrist and publisher Dr Bass and Dr Read respectively have expressed openly that the problem is endemic, so I expect interest and dare I say it at least a reply.
Maybe when the government is more representative and engages I will, finally, be compelled to vote, she is my MP, I am her constituent, now I need to have a dialogue. I have worked at a grassroots level with disaffected Somali and Bengali kids living in the tower blocks, to slum kids in Bangladesh, to Bangladeshi elders in Tower Hamlets, to doodling with young Bangladeshi girls at Rich Mix showing them that if they want they, too, can be artists.
Drawing of Shopna Noor, taken from my book Connecting Kids, British Council and Arts Council funded photography, film and international art project, 2006
I want to see what all these women are actually going do, if they are genuine, and if they really care. The few times I met Oona King, former MP for Bethnal Green under Blair's government, she would greet me with a broad smile, was very effusive, but we rarely spoke for a few minutes at a time and when we did she would often laud my sartorial prowess rather than discuss the issues that mattered to me.
I can genuinely say that the prospect of more Bangladeshi women in government is an exciting one. My parents were first generation, there were no discernible role models as I was growing up. Going into politics was an inconceivable career even though I was conflicted between my International History and Comparative Politics education at the LSE and the innate creative desire to be an artist. My interest in politics has never waned. I don't think any Bangladeshi artist/politicians exist in government diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder - shame that, it could have been interesting, but undoubtedly an artist can be political such as my friend Yinka Shonibare and the Chinese, now exiled, artist Ai Wei Wei.
Art IS politics, so I will do my bit my end, to fight for a more diverse range of views to be heard.
This is only the beginning who knows maybe we will even see a Bangladeshi female PM, it could happen. Think of Alberto Fujimori a Japanese man elected president of Peru who served from 1990-2000, a controversial figure but he was elected nonetheless - stranger things have happened
I think now is actually a time for optimism not despair in the UK, personally I am proud of these three newly elected women, now let's see what they are actually going to do and crucially will Ms Ali reply to my tweet? Or come to my show? She never attended my mid-career retrospective at Rich Mix even though it was the first to be held for a Bangladeshi woman, ever, in the UK. I am not disgruntled but no doubt you will be the first to know what happens. So far Ms Ali has not replied.
Schizophrenics Can Be Good Mothers Too, Q.S.Lam (Muswell Hill Press, 2015)
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