The ArtPack: A History of Black Artists in Britain (1988)

During the latter years of its existence, the Greater London Council, London’s umbrella local government funding body, made a rather clumsy intervention into the sphere of the Black visual arts. Several of the GLC’s departments had provided money for a variety of Black arts bodies and projects. The GLC logo (proof and acknowledgement of funding) appeared on a number of posters and other publicity material relating to the Black visual arts. For example, the GLC provided money for Rasheed Araeen to publish in book form a collection of his articles, essays and letters.

As a funding body, responding to requests for financial assistance, the GLC was undoubtedly of some value and service, albeit belatedly. Unfortunately however, their patronage became dubious and counter-productive when they took it upon themselves to become initiators rather than simply project funders. Again, the difference might seem slight, but it is, I believe, fundamentally important. Unqualified though it was, the GLC undertook to initiate and organise projects involving Black artists. One such project was an exhibition held at the Royal Festival Hall, blandly titled ‘New Horizons’. The exhibition was shabby and amateurish, though it featured the work of some fine practitioners…

Undeterred, the GLC went on to organise what they called ‘The GLC Anti-Racist Murals Project’. This consisted of commissioning four teams of two artists, to paint murals at four sites across the capital. As a thoroughly shoddy and superficial project, the Anti-Racist Murals venture fitted neatly into then ongoing attempts to reappropriate and exploit Black visual creativity. Instead of making funds available to the much wider community of Black artists, the GLC encouraged individualism and opportunism by concentrating their capital funding around ventures, which involved no more than a clutch of artists. (And even these few artists had to be selected.)

…Incidentally, Errol Lloyd himself has done an unquantifiable amount of pioneering work for Black artists. In the 60’s he was one of the founder-members of a particularly active and influential group known as CAM – the Caribbean Artists Movement. Errol Lloyd was one of the few Black artists of the 60’s who consciously chose to create Black images. (In those days, it seems that the in-thing was very much metropolitan abstraction). As an indication of the hostile climate that Errol Lloyd practiced in, his first exhibition, upon opening, was promptly closed down by the white controllers of the venue; such was the [perceived] nature of his work and the severity of the displeasure it incurred…

The above extracts are from the main essay [pp. 3 - 25], by Eddie Chambers, in The ArtPack: A History of Black Artists in Britain, 1988, published and produced by Eddie Chambers and Tam Joseph, with financial support from Haringey Arts Council, London.

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