Tuesday, July 31, 2018

In plain sight - and invisible

The title of this post is a quote from the Whoever Heard of a Black Artist? Britain's Hidden Art History programme on BBC4 last night - which you can watch on iPlayer.

Very much recommended viewing for every artist, whatever your ethnicity, for an explanation of just how difficult it is to get your artwork seen when the art establishment ignores you - and even denies your nationality.

However it was interesting to hear that there is a lot more work by black artists in British Collections than had been expected - but that it tends to be in the collection and NOT on show.

I'm ashamed to say an awful lot of what I heard about was new to me. So I thought I'd create a set of links to the websites and more information about:
  • some of the artists who are mentioned in the programme 
  • notable events / exhibitions highlighted by the programme
  • some of the more famous black artists who latterly are known for their art first and their ethnicity second.
Anybody who cares to suggest 
  • other websites relevant to the programme or theme is welcome to do so 
  • other artists who deserve to be added to the list
please leave a comment with the information or name.

Black Artists in the Programme

It became very clear that black art in this context actually means art by anybody who doesn't fit in terms of a white western European origin.

Older artists tend to be born elsewhere and come to Britain and younger artists are typically born here as the second or third generation family members of the original migrants
Araeen has been among the first cultural practitioners to voice since the early 1970s the need of artists of African, Latin American and Asian origins to be represented in British cultural institutions.

  • Sonia Boyce MBE RA (1962 - present) currently Professor of Fine Arts at Middlesex University, London and Professor of Black Art and Design at University of the Arts London and co-ordinator of the exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery
Sonia and her team have spent the past three years scouring public art archives to find out just how many works of art by artists of African and Asian descent the nation really owns. They have found nearly 2,000, but many of these pieces have rarely, if ever, been displayed before BBC
  • Lubaina Himid MBE (1954 - present) - first British black artist to win the Turner Prize (in 2017). British contemporary artist and curator; Professor of Contemporary Art at the University of Central Lancashire. Named named Artist of the Year 2017 by international art journal Apollo Magazine.

Himid was appointed MBE in June 2010 for "services to black women's art", and won the Turner Prize in 2017. Tate bio
Turner Prize 2017 - Lubaina Himid | Tate

  • Claudette Johnson (1959 - present) - British visual artist known for large scale drawings of black women.
  • Althea McNish (1933 - present) - textile designer.  
Most of McNish's designs are based on nature though some use abstract themes, occasionally geometric. Wikipedia

  • Li Yuan-chia () - a Chinese artist, poet and curator. Spent the last twenty-eight years of his life at Banks, Cumbria, in northern England, in a house next to Hadrian’s Wall - creating an art museum.

Black Art

The black arts movement was an ideological movement that emerged in the USA in the early 1960s when black artists and intellectuals came together to organise, study and think about what a new black art and black politics movement might be

The British black arts movement was a radical political art movement founded in 1982 inspired by anti-racist discourse and feminist critique, which sought to highlight issues of race and gender and the politics of representation
Formed in Wolverhampton, England, in 1979, The Blk Art Group was an association of young black artists who, inspired by the black arts movement, raised questions about what black art was, its identity and what it could become in the future
The Blk Art Group Research Project was set up by former ‘Blk Art Group’ members Claudette Johnson, Marlene Smith and Keith Piper in 2011. Taking a renewed examination of the archives and historical legacies of ‘The Blk Art Group’ (1979-1984) as it’s starting point, this project exists to promote debate, enquiry, scholarship and understanding of what has become known as the British 'Black Art Movement ’ of the 1980’s.

Interestingly if you look for "black art" or "black artist" on Wikimedia Commons there is nothing remotely connected to either term - as in the context of the links on this page.

Black art Exhibitions / Events



  • The Other Story | Hayward Gallery (29 November 1989 - 4 February 1990) curated by Rasheed Araeen. The 24 artists with work in the exhibition were: Rasheed Araeen, Saleem Arif, Sonia Boyce, Frank Bowling, Eddie Chambers, Avinash Chandra, Avtarjeet Dhanjal, Ugo Egonu, Iqbal Geoffrey, Mona Hatoum, Lubaina Himid, Gavin Jantjes, Balraj Khanna, Li Yuan-chia, Donald Locke, David Medalla, Ronald Moody, Ahmed Parvez, Ivan Peries, Keith Piper, Anwar Jalal Shemza, Kumiko Shimizu, Francis Newton Souza and Aubrey Williams.
The Other Story, 1989, the first retrospective exhibition of British African, Caribbean and Asian modernism, was received with derision and acclaim in equal measure.

Poster and Invitation for the exhibition | BLK Art Group website

Art Collections

The art galleries and museums mentioned in the programme as having decent collections of artwork by black artists include:
During 2015-17 the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Collecting Cultures programme has enabled Wolverhampton Art Gallery to buy a selection of works by Black British contemporary artists, particularly those associated with the Black Arts Movement of the 1980s.

Famous black artists

"Fame" in this context seems to be those that the white western culture seems to have accepted for whatever reason.

Many are just defined as artists rather than black artists. Indeed I remember being quite surprised at seeing the images of some for the first time and realising they were black - due entirely to the fact that this was never really mentioned (plus I've got used to lots of artists having odd names!)

Some famous black British Artists

Anybody notice how almost all the famous British black artists are men?
One of the objectives of Julien's work is to break down the barriers that exist between different artistic disciplines, drawing from and commenting on film, dance, photography, music, theatre, painting and sculpture, and uniting these to construct a powerfully visual narrative. Thematically, much of his work directly relates to experiences of black and gay identity (he is himself gay),[2] including issues of class, sexuality, and artistic and cultural history. Wikipedia
McQueen's films as an artist were typically projected onto one or more walls of an enclosed space in an art gallery, and often in black-and-white and minimalistic.
Shonibare’s work explores issues of race and class through the media of painting, sculpture, photography and film. Shonibare questions the meaning of cultural and national definitions. His trademark material is the brightly coloured ‘African’ batik fabric he buys in London. This type of fabric was inspired by Indonesian design, mass-produced by the Dutch and eventually sold to the colonies in West Africa. In the 1960s the material became a new sign of African identity and independence.
Artwork by Yinka Shonibare | RA Summer Exhibition 2014

Some famous black American Artists

an American contemporary painter, silhouettist, print-maker, installation artist, and film-maker who explores race, gender, sexuality, violence, and identity in her work. | Wikipedia

Kara Walker - home page of her studio website


  1. I don't really subscribe to the premise, that Black artists are unknown, under-represented and have no profile. That might have been the case 30 years ago, but I think that things have swung the other way now, as a result of having all these associations, groups, specifically for black/non caucasian artists, who have obviously used their powerful leverage.

  2. I'm wondering whether you actually watched the programme before making that comment? Or just read my post. I very much recommend watching the programme.

    I remember making a comment about an exhibition in the last 12 months and saying it was looking very middle class, middle England and unrepresentative of UK society - so I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say that.

    The point being made by the programme is that there is no shortage of black artists - but the art establishment is still not giving their artwork space for display (eg in/by art galleries, museums, societies etc)

    Also while groups may have been important in the past in terms of leveraging spaces for exhibitions they seem to be less prevalent in more recent times.

    SOME black artists are very definitely making it on merit.

    That doesn't mean there isn't scope and space to see more.



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