A Bizarre Form of Anthropology
The more times I read the introductory essays in the From Two Worlds catalogue, the less convinced I become, as to the stated premiss on which the exhibition rests. In simple terms, all this talk about black artists (or, even more importantly, some black artists) coming from two worlds is unconvincing and unsatisfactory. From Two Worlds amounts to nothing more than just another survey show, though the organisers appear to be stubbornly reluctant to admit this. Instead, they choose to couch the exhibition in a quaint, half-baked theory that lends itself more to a bizarre form of anthropology than it does to arguments about black visual creativity.
…If the exhibition had been titled “Essentially Arbitrarily-Chosen Work by 15 Essentially Arbitrarily-Chosen Artists”, then harsh criticism would, to a large extent, have been unjustified…
… These 15 artists represent the organisers’ vision of a “melting pot” world. A world where black people and white people merge together, as supposed equals, to create a race of quaint, coffee-coloured people. Or, to put this idea into the context of the exhibition, the work of these artists is seen as being an exotic product of the merging of “a fusion of European and non-European visions”. Thus we have a strange blend of liberalism, anthropology, and supposedly wishful thinking.
In 1986, naïve notions of cultural pluralism and mutual aesthetic exchange just won’t do. On this earth there are no such things as separate autonomous worlds. The world is something of a global village, and by definition, that village is conceived, dominated, and controlled by the white West.
…I’m puzzled as to how such a neatly packaged, yet obviously muddled argument could make it as far as the catalogue. For the sake of real progress, let’s hope that this notion of From Two Worlds quietly lays down and dies, and is then buried in an unmarked grave.
The above extracts are from “A Bizarre Form of Anthropology", a review by Eddie Chambers of From Two Worlds, held at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1986, The Race Today Review 1987: 28-30