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  • Black artists Britain

Art by Black Artists to be Catalogued for the First Time in Britain

November 27, 2015
Anika Dačić graduated in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory from the Faculty of Philology in Belgrade and is currently pursuing MA in Literary and Cultural Studies. Her interests lie in social and cultural aspects of contemporary art production and she especially enjoys writing about street and urban art. Likes to knit, play adventure video games and host quiz nights at a local bar.

When we think about the art of Modernism how often does an oeuvre of a black artist come to mind? Artists of African and Asian descent had an important role in the shaping of the 20th-century art, yet their names are less familiar to the wider audience. That is about to change soon. Influential British artist and professor at University of Arts London, Sonia Boyce will engage in a three-year-long project with a team of researchers, aiming to catalogue the works by artists of African and Asian descent held in UK public collections. It will be the first project of its kind to date and it will fill the gaps in the art history, drawing attention to the significance of the “Black-British” artists and their influence on the art of Modernism.

Black artists Britain
Sonia Boyce, artist and professor at University of Arts London. Photo via youtube

Stuart Hall, Idea of Conjuncture and Black-British Artists

The new project initiated by Sonia Boyce is entitled Black Artists and Modernism, and as mentioned in the proposed abstract for the research, it will be based on Stuart Hall’s notion of the “conjuncture” of generations of Black-British artists that were ‘for’ and ‘against’ modernist dictates. The term “Black-British”, coined in the eighties, can be seen as a metaphor for common experiences of disenfranchisement, a state of consciousness that people of African-Caribbean, South-East Asian and East Asian descent have experienced. The aim of the research is not however to emphasize the ethnicity and race but to look on the artistic production in a wider context of the 20th-century art and draw attention on those artists whose contribution to Modernism remains overlooked.

Black artists Britain
Gavin Jantjes, Untitled. Photo via news.yahoo.com

Black Artists and Modernism Catalogue

This project will bring together a group of artists and researchers who will in the next three years visit UK museums, galleries and other public collections, gathering information on more than three hundred works by artists of African or Asian descent. Initiated by Sonia Boyce and University of Arts London, the project will be conducted in partnership with Middlesex University with the support of major art institutions like Tate Britain and regional galleries. The £722,000 project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. It is expected that the project will produce a variety of materials. The most important is, of course, the online database of artworks held in the UK public collections. The accompanying materials will include a series of essays, documentaries, public discussions, new exhibitions at prominent cultural institutions, and the publication The Blackness of Modernism: reconsidering art-works, exhibitions and collecting the work of Black-British artists.

Black artists Britain
Althea McNish, Painted Desert for Hull traders, 1959. Photo via retropattern.wordpresscom

The Importance of the Project

It is expected that the catalogue will include the works of approximately thirty artists, those born in Britain and those who were passing through from other locations. Among the featured artists will be Ronald Moody, a close friend of Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, David Medalla one of kinetic sculpture pioneers who influenced the work of Marcel Duchamp, Gavin Jantjes, South African artist who studied in Germany under Joseph Beuys in the 1970’s, first black textile designer in Britain – Althea McNish, and David Hockney’s peer Frank Bowling among many other. The initiative to include these artists in the Western canon is praiseworthy and it will greatly benefit academics, students, art connoisseurs, collectors and the wider art-loving audience.

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Featured image: Frank Bowling in his studio. Photo via theguardian.com. All images used for illustrative purposes.