History and Identity
Within the work of African and Asian artists in Britain and around the world, two themes can clearly be seen as central and recurring. These are the twin themes of history and identity. This of course is hardly surprising. After all, the myriad experiences that characterised the existence of African and Asian peoples relate directly to their various histories, and the ways in which these people are viewed and treated by those of European origin...
... ‘History’ determines who we are and what we are. In addition we are constantly reminded that our ongoing ‘struggle’ is itself continually updating and extending our history. So we look back on events such as the Great Insurrection of 1980/81, the maiming of Cherry Groce, the death of Cynthia Jarrett […] as being key and critical contributions to our history, and our identity. As Linton Kwesi Johnson proclaimed, “It is no myst’ry, we makin’ hist’try”.
Perhaps the centrality and pivotal position of history in our lives is due to the fact that our conquerors and colonisers have tried so hard to take our history away from us. Indeed, it has been comparatively recently (the 1920s) that the recognisable notion of ‘Black History’ first clearly emerged, via the forceful personality of Marcus Garvey. Before this time, the black struggle had tended to focus exclusively in the quest for liberty, justice and equality.
A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots – Marcus Garvey
This exhibition presents the work of seven painters [reproduced on the following pages], of African or Asian origin, each of them having their own interpretations and responses to their dual birthright of history and identity.
Born 1962, London; studied at Wimbledon College of Art (1984-87)
In making a piece of work, whether it is a drawing, a painting or three-dimensional construction, my aim is to open out for discussion some of the ideas, beliefs, histories that make up the fabric of our existence.
By projecting my personal thoughts/imagination onto a certain imagery accepted by society as the norm, I wish to create an environment in which people are encouraged to re-examine the rigid restraints of society. The need to break down barriers and see ourselves as we are, for what we are, is strong within us all (we must act upon it!)
My goal is to inspire people to use the richness of their imagination and experience to deconstruct with a newly changed insight – Mowbray Odonkor, May 1988
The above extracts are from the introduction to the exhibition catalogue for History and Identity: Seven Painters, curated by Eddie Chambers, shown at Norwich Gallery, Norfolk Institute of Art and Design, 16 March - 11 May 1991