Traditionally, western art has always taken sides with the oppressors, rather than the oppressed. Art in the west has no recognisable history of supporting the working classes and other exploited and brutalised minorities. Maybe that’s because, until quite recently, art was the almost exclusive preserve of the rich; artists were instructed as to what they should produce by their wealthy patrons. Or, maybe the oppressive nature of western art is because the rich were the only ones who could find the time or the money to produce art. Whatever the reasons, the historic role of art in the west has hardly changed for the better during the 20th century. Indeed, it could be argued that the links between art and oppression have merely become more sophisticated with the passage of time.
…But white supremacy doesn’t always have everything its own way. John Henrik Clarke, writing about the Harlem Renaissance of the post WW1 period, has this to say about Harlem’s black artists: “The visual arts were going through a period of transition. The black artists lost their doubts about painting black subjects though some were more interested in success than in artistic integrity. [Marcus Garvey and the Vision of Africa - Page 185] There is a British equivalent of what Clarke is writing about. Developments have resulted in the emergence of black artists in Britain who have made bold attempts to reassert their own artistic identities, and produce art that deals with the issues of raising consciousness amongst black people and combating racism.
Black artists have been making stands against cultural imperialism for many years. However, some of the first recognizable strains of art by black people , (and on an ideological level, for black people) appeared in 1978, when Pakistani artist Rasheed Araeen founded and co-edited Black Phoenix, a “Journal of Contemporary Art and Culture in the Third World.”
The above extracts are from “BLACK ART” by Eddie Chambers, Campaigns Bulletin (Newsletter of Third World First), September 1985. The text appeared alongside a feature on an exhibition by Eddie Chambers critiquing the image of the golly.