Zaha Hadid, the architect, is profiled by Stephen Bayley in today's Observer. I once was involved in quite a public contretemps with her. A few years ago, she was speaking in the grandiose setting of the Royal Geographical Society, near the Royal Albert Hall. After about an hour of slide after slide of odd shaped buildings (some of them admittedly beautiful), I was first to ask her a question. She had spoken of a social vision in her work; I wanted her to say more about this, as all I could see was formalism - computer-generated shapes and an absence of right-angles or recognisable facades.
Before I had reached the end of my sentence, she interjected. 'I am not going to be asked questions like this by a white man!' she belowed. I could see some of her acolytes looking in my direction with concerned irritation. Someone moved to take the mic off me. I resisted. 'No no Zaha, I'd like to finish my question.' It was not a rude question, after all. Zaha carried on, 'please I am not going to answer this question by this white man.' Well versed in this tactic, I countered quickly, 'this is a tired form of silencing strategy, racialising critical discussion to stop it. I would however like to ask my question.' At which point, several people were straining to see who the interlocutor was. I had a sense of collective tempers rising around me. I handed the mic to one of the ushers. Round after round of sycophantic questions ensued. Madame Zaha is used to getting her way...
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