The Marginalisation of Black Art
… It goes without saying that Araeen was correct. But why should he have been correct? After all, the late 70’s and early 80’s were heady, progressive times for black artists. In particular, two examples of this spring to mind. Firstly, black art students up and down the country were putting pencil to paper, squeegee to silkscreen and brush to canvas to make a new kind of mark. A mark that wasn’t reluctant to draw from, and address, the struggles of black people. And in London a small group of black cultural activists were seriously considering, and working on, the idea of a black art gallery. An American term, defiant in its simplicity, was increasingly being used to describe the work of blck artists. “Black Art” was emerging.
So, faced with progressive, restless and assertive black artists, who demanded that their new-found voices be heard, the white art world simply switched tactics. For years it had ignored and marginalised the work of Britain’s pioneer black artists, but with a crop of articulate art school trained black artists to contend with, the art world went for the time-honoured European practice of re-appropriation. Without a qualm it dispensed with its hostile, indifferent attitude, and began making liberal, accommodating noises and gestures. A previously unknown type of creativity, “Ethnic Art”, was encouraged, and suddenly became a familiar and widely practiced art form. The white establishment created a type of person known as an “Ethnic Arts Officer”. Black arts administrators were trained, and bodies were established to oversee and guide the emergence of black art. And white art critics began to pay lip service to their “favourite” black artists…
…This then is something of the situation of black artists in Britain at the present time. It is black artists alone who determine the form, functioning and future of black art, for better or for worse. The final word goes to Araeen: “The choice is clear. Either we accept our marginalised separate categories or reject them. The rejection will entail hard thinking and commitment. It would require us to look deep into our reality as black people in this country…”
The above extracts are from “The Marginalisation of Black Art”, a text by Eddie Chambers, The Race Today Review 1986: 32-33