VIENNA.- I first arrived in Vienna in 1982. I have a degree in Fine Arts and so the thought of living in Austria was a dream come true for me. I had already heard a lot of wonderful things about Austria, especially Vienna, because it is famous for its arts and culture.
Back then I did not know about discrimination.
I have always been an artist all my life. Art is my life. So I have always believed that art should be free and should be made available to everybody who wants to learn and practice it.
Today I am an art gallery owner. I started out as an artist and immediately, I felt discrimination, sadly, from complete strangers who I meet on the street. Often, I heard unsavory remarks like, go back where you come from, you are a foreigner
Honestly, it was one of the rudest remarks I heard in my life. I was not used to hearing those things from complete strangers. I used to manage the Afro-Asian Institute. Since I promoted non-white artists, I started feeling rejections form Austrian art agencies and organizations. Truly, the elite Austrian Arts circle has never accepted me.
There is a big difference between rejection and insult. Rejection, I can take. I can accept that because it is normal to meet rejections, However, when they started hurling insults at me because of the color of my skin or to refer to me as a foreigner, then I take an issue with it.
I applied to several jobs where more often than not, the supervisor would say You do not belong in an office job, white collar jobs are only for Austrians. How many times was I dragged down to the basement to clean it even if my position title is graphic artist?
Rising above that challenge, I established myself as an art gallery owner specializing in antique and modern art. And then I noticed that high-quality artworks from non western and non-white sell dismally in direct contrast to those done by American, European or British artists? It was then I realized if I concentrate on promoting ethnic art, I will not survive as an art gallery.
I have been a citizen of this country for more than twenty seven years and still I feel the discrimination from the business sector where I belong.
The most recent example of this kind of treatment I received is when I was rejected by the Hamburg Messe in Germany. I went there to rent a big space for an art fair we are planning to hold in the fall of this year. The initial meeting was very encouraging and lucrative to the point that they gave me the permission to advertise to invite the galleries immediately. However, after four weeks, Katharina Klanck, (Sales Manger Guest Events) demanded that we stop all the advertising and marketing we have already done and to pull out the website of the event. Succeeding phone calls and emails and all other attempts I made to contact the administrators of the Hamburg Messe were futile. When finally they replied to my repeated requests for confirmation of the space I was renting, Katharina Klanck was rude and unfriendly over the phone. I was accused of running a business without a business-commercial license, they wanted to check my commercial license. I sent them the registration number of my business license as an antique and modern art dealer, but they did not check the validity of my business license from the Austrian Trade and Commerce.
Another month passed before they could email me and put it in writing an informal rejection of my proposal to hold an event in their premises.
The email I received was a direct affront to my capability to hold an art fair of international magnitude. Moreover, my credibility as a professional gallery owner and as a person was rudely questioned. It occurred to me if they treated me this way because of how I look like or if because the color of my skin is not white. I was their client I was going to rent more than 3000 square meter exhibition hall that costs more or less 100.000 Euro.
After about eight productive years and sixty art fairs, the Austrian art circuit still refers to me as an amateur gallery. They have treated me unfairly to the point that my Salvador Dali items they bandied around as fakes. This hurt my business.
I have repeatedly tried to join Austrian art fairs. The many times I applied, they rejected me. So when other galleries ask the organizers why I was rejected, they offer the lame excuse that they do not like my artists.
If I am an amateur gallery, I will not have works by Salvador Dali that are registered with the Gala Foundation in Seville, Spain. If I am an amateur gallery, I will not be able to join several art fairs in a year. If I am an amateur gallery, I will not have a roster of professional artists whose works are known all over the world.
But the Austrian art circuit chooses to ignore my existence because I am an Asian and more over, a woman competing in a world dominated by males of Anglo-Saxon descent.
I have already written many agencies in the hope of disseminating my story and yet no one is taking it up after the initial round of exploratory questions.
There should not be discrimination in the world of arts. Now I feel like a tiny, lonesome voice fighting an unknown force that seeks to stamp out my efforts to make a career in my adopted country because first, I am FILIPINA and second, I am a woman.
I am not saying all Austrians are the same. No, I do not generalize. In fact, I personally know many Austrians who are very nice and who do not discriminate.
Discrimination in the art scene in Austria is quite strong because there are too many values involved. Sometimes, I feel that some people cannot accept the fact that a non-native Austrian can grow in the art industry.
Ninety percent of the situation I experienced involves discrimination. I keep quiet and I let the situation pass without saying anything. In this instance, I have to speak out against racism and discrimination.