The Black Arts Movement and Their Legacy

‘Soul of a Nation’ and ‘The place is Here’ have looked at the Black Arts Movements. They discuss contemporary politics but the context that these exhibitions were conceived in were very different to the time there displayed in. Issues around rights and equality are so current now, theses exhibitions were thought of discussing things of the past but now (considering Trump administration) they are very current.


‘Post’ doesn’t mean simply after, but states something in the conditions of colonisation have changed. They haven’t disappeared but have simply moved forward. The 1960’s had a lot of decolonisation and the context for this was the civil rights movement, sexual equality, rise of feminism which made it a very active period of time. This coincided with American Black Arts moment, however, this happened over a decade later in England.


dispersedia ‘across’+ speirein ‘scatter’ the dispersion or spread of any people from their original homeland

Many people came into England after the second world war as needed workers. The first group of artist from post colonies were interested in modernist movements. There was an idea that modernism was an international movement. There was an idea that abstract language was universal. So the early migrant artists came to the UK to join the modernist movement in England as abstract sculptures and painters but their reception was that they were alien – theses artists  (such as Frank Bowling) were disillusioned.

‘Who’s Afraid of Barney Newman’
Frank Bowling

1989 ‘Magicians de la terre’ and ‘the other story’ were two Exhibitions which were concerned with the lack of non-white and western practises at that time. They devided between 50 western artists and 50 from ‘non’ west.

Jean Fisher’s essay ‘the other story and the passing perfect’ discsusses the differeneces and simialirites between the two exibitions. She says the curation of the ‘Magicians de la terre’ directed the exhibition into two fragments; western modern artists and the non-western ‘traditional’ artists. The curation told a story of modernist art being contaminated when non-western artists were creating work – they weren’t seen as being authentically from the culture, which was being criticised by Fisher. The show featured western artists such as Jeff Wall and Claes Oldenburg / Coosje Van Bruggen, next to the traditions which separated the ‘other’ in art works such as Jangarh Singh Shya’s traditionalist Indian painting.

‘The Storyteller’
Jeff Wall
Jangarh Singh Shyam

Fisher argued that artists such as Ali Wei Wei wouldn’t be shown as wasn’t seen as purely traditional – he’s a modernist. Contemporary artists were being categorised negatively as not being ‘truelyl authentic’ to their country. But Fisher says the ‘other story’ was discussing modernist artists who weren’t from west and placing their experimentation alongside wester artists. He said in his book ‘The Other Story and the Past Imperfect’ that:

Contact between Europe and its ‘others’ produced transformations in both directions, leading to a plurality of modernities and modernisms, each with its local inflections… Cross-cultural encounters are perceived as central to the formation of modernism, not supplementary… both in the formal break with pictorial conventions and in the development of the ‘expressionist’ strand of modernism that began with ‘primitivism“- Jean Fisher ‘The Other Story and the Past Imperfect’, p. 2-3

If we want to have a global understanding of art history we have to look outside of western understanding. The west doesn’t automatically operate as the centrt against which everything else gets measured. There is so much depth to the resources which artists have used to create these movements.

An example of this is when Van Gogh literally copied Hiroshige’s ‘Sudden Shower Over Shin-Ohashi Bridge and Atake’ when creating his work ‘Bridge in the Rain’. His work later became vital to post impressionist specifically exploring the flattening of images. However, the influence from this moment was originated in Japanese art.  However, these movements are seen as ‘European’ so when artists outside of the west start playing with these themes their work and them as individuals/ artist have been condemned by critiques and the wider market.

‘Bridge in the Rain’ (after Hiroshige)
Vincent Van Gogh
‘Sudden Shower Over (Shin-Ohashi Bridge and Atake)’

Second Wave Black Arts Movements

In the 1980’s in England, the use of name ‘black’ was used to bring together diverse groups who wouldn’t usually unify but being brought against the white culture. They were being treated as ‘other’ or alienated. It was strategic but also dangerous as it emphasises difference. The significance of a difference was being brought into question politically as separating them.

We see the recent acceptance of non-wester artists working in contemporary mediums through these four Artists:

  1. Rasheed Araeen– Frist generation artist from Pakistan started making minimalist scuptural as she first moved to England. Through time work becomes more political and is active as an individual working as a curator, writer, editior, set up magazine.

    ‘Burning Ties’
    Rasheed Araeen
  2. Mona Hatoum From Lebanon performance piece. The doc martins as national from skin heads and polic were using docs as shoes so had important significace. They acted as a shadow or a lurking presense. They disturb her capacity to walk naturally so she cannot walk innosently and purely.
    Performance Still (Roadworks exhibition Brixton)
    Mona Hatoum

    Performance Still (Roadworks exhibition Brixton)
    Mona Hatoum
  3. Black Audio Film Collective John Akomfrah makde film, gernally known now as ‘film essay’ moving between documentary and also contemporary. During there work together they organised film screening through out London in order to produces exposure of topics which aren’t gernally discussed. Archival footage becomes a fragment of the time the film was made. So they used factual and poet work by looking at documentation along with voice overs and sound to changed the time and interpretation.

    ‘The Unfinished Conversation’
    John Akomfrah
  4. Sonia Boyce looks at the tension of generational difficulties as her parents were involved in chritistianity but her second generation are more associated with the Rastafarian religion, which starts to go against her parental ties. It deals with complexities of who and what one identifies with. Iconography – images are  a language of signs which carry a series of meanings outside of the painting itself. She looks at self portraiture and looks at how to present her self when the image she’s dealing with has socially negative connotations.

    ‘Missionary Position II’
    Sonia Boyce

Of the back of Boyce’s exploration of self through portraiture allows us to explore the different between ‘Identity Politics’ and the ‘Politics of identity’. Whilst the former implies that one knows who one is, the latter looks at when identity is thrown into question. They start to discuss: what am I? This topic of subjectivity is started to be discussed as a problem by boyce.

‘From Tarzan to Rambo- English Born ‘Native’ Considers her Relationship to the Constructed/Self Image and her Roots in Reconstruction’
Sonia Boyce

Identity might be what we are pre-given but Identification might be things through which we choose. If the identification Boyce has placed on her and reflected back to her is negative, how do you deal with this? Culture is placing images onto her which are hard to deal with such as expectations on the topics within the art felid which she ‘should’ be dealing with.


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