Eddie Chambers: An interview with Petrine Archer-Straw

… [Petrine Archer-Straw] - That brings us to what you might perceive as being the failings of the British mainstream institutions in providing for black artists. How do you view the situation, in terms of funding and in terms of exhibiting space, and so on?    

[Eddie Chambers] – I mean, I don't really want to take a kind of negative, pessimistic road, but I think that at the moment things are absolutely dreadful. (Laughter) I think, in the early 1980s, there was this thing about ‘Right, we've just had these amazing riots, throughout the country,’ and that translates, in its own trickle-down way, into a pressure on public institutions, to have some kind of accountability, or to acknowledge in some way people in the black community and, in this case, artists in the black community. I think what’s happened, is that the art world is now saying, 'Right, there are a few artists we will patronize … who we'll interact with… that there is a multicultural body of artists out there.’ The problem is that I don't think that the process of patronising half a dozen artists is adequate, because it means that there are several hundred artists in any one area of the country who are left to wither. I think it's a really important point that racism in the art world, in terms of denying exhibition spaces to black artists, is a real problem, because I think art practice improves or develops through exhibitions. I don't think an artist is going to improve or mature, or develop a high level of competence and accomplishment only in their studio. If you give an artist an opportunity to exhibit a major body of his or her work, then I think that process acts as a catalyst for that artist's work. So essentially, I don't like to say it, I believe strongly that what we have in the black community is a body of artists whose work is actually stunted. I really hate to say it but I believe it strongly


[Petrine Archer-Straw] Things have changed since the 80s, and we've had a lot of rhetoric with regard to the notion of British multiculturalism. Don’t you see that as a way forward, in terms of how we assess these artists and how their work is reviewed and represented?

Well, I think the major problems with institutional notions such as 'multiculturalism' and, I suppose more recently, 'internationalism', which is another area altogether…

[Eddie Chambers] Well, it isn't, surely it's an extension of the same principle.

No, no, no. I mean…(Laughter)

[Petrine Archer-Straw] You, mean it's another minefield.

[Eddie Chambers] Yes, that's another minefield. I think the problem with these notions is that, whilst we can embrace the spirit of them quite easily and quite readily, the way they find form, via the white establishment, is always through a quota system. I don't really think the white establishment is able to take on board the principles of multiculturalism in a truly unfettered way.

The full transcript of the above extracts, “Eddie Chambers: An interview with Petrine Archer-Straw”, appeared in Art & Design, British Art: Defining the 90s, London, Profile No 41, 1995: 49 - 57