Beyond Ethnic Arts

... At this point it may be wise to clarify what I mean by the term ‘Black artists’. The term may appear to refer to artists who happen to be Black. This however is not the case. Artists who are Black roughly fall into two groups. Thee are those artists who, though Black, see no real need to connect their practice to the political realities of their skin colour… (Being Black means that one is part of a race with an extended and continuing history of being victims of European/Western exploitation, oppression and racism.) The ‘Black’ experience is of little or no consequence to those Black-skinned artists who stand for aesthetic individualism. Diametrically opposed to this self-centred notion are the group of cultural (and therefore political) activists that I here refer to as Black artists. These artists produce work directly related to the fact that they are part of an oppressed race. Briefly, this group could be said to produce work because they are Black, and not despite being Black. Black artists produce ‘Black art’ not ‘art’. A crude, but sufficient definition of Black art is art by Black people, for Black people, and about Black people. It is these artists who are making, through their work, a collective, aggressive challenge to cultural domination.

…Reiterating the importance of a reclaimed cultural identity were 60’s American Black Power activists who declared: “Needed. Solemn, dedicated Black people to undertake the enormous task of reclaiming the shattered psyches and culture of the Black race. A race scattered over the continents of the world, where they exist in the mud of the floor of the foul dungeon into which the world has been transformed by the white power structure.” While passionate statements like this were being made, artists of African origin remained non-committal. For various reasons, they were reluctant to involve themselves effectively in the struggle against cultural domination. One reason for this was because many artists saw ‘culture’ primarily in terms of what we had when we were Africans in Africa…

The above extracts are from “Beyond Ethnic Arts” by Eddie Chambers, Circa Magazine, Dublin, Spring 1985: 6-9