True Colours

Thus far, more than any other single entity, the ‘international non-white’ exhibition has done more than anything else to compound the invisibility and gross marginalisation of black artists. The art establishment, having grown quickly bored with the wider body of Black British artists, and finding no compelling reason for consistently acknowledging them, quickly and quietly reverted to a quota system which acknowledged the practice of only a tiny fraction of Black artists. But even this quota system has now been largely abandoned by an art establishment that has now turned its attention overseas, towards the so-called ‘international’ arena.

For several years now, these exhibitions have come thick and fast. Oxford Museum of Modern Art’s Art from South Africa and Makonde exhibitions have perhaps been two of the most5 widely toured of these ‘international’ exhibitions. For galleries uncertain about how to deal with the ‘problem’ of Black representation within their programme, these exhibitions have come as a god-send. The scenario, frequently repeated, goes something like this: for reasons of liberal posturing or political expediency, white gallery directors attempt to demonstrate that they can go one better than home-grown Black artists’ exhibitions, by allocating their “ethnic slots’ to what are perceived as being much more exotic imported goods.

Thus, Black artists in Britain have rapidly come to find themselves considered to be frumpy, obsolete and passé, in comparison to a wide range of non-white artists whose most important characteristic is that they are not ‘from here’. In other words, the art establishment’s perverse view that ‘local’ artists are substandard artists is enthusiastically applied to Black British artists. The current consensus seems to be that the most ‘interesting’ or ‘exciting’ art by coloured people is being produced by artists in Africa, or South Asia, or China, or the Pacific rim, or Australasia, or wherever. Anywhere but here in Britain.

The full version of the above text written by Eddie Chambers appeared in Versus magazine, London, No. 2, 1994: 28-29. The full text appeared in Run Through the Jungle, INIVA, 1999