During the course of the last decade and a half Keith Piper has come to represent, or symbolise, ‘the Black artist’. Not ‘the Black artist’, as in ‘ethnic arts’ from the days of yore, nor those artists who claim that for them a deracialised art practice comes first and blackness follows some way after. Instead, avoiding such positions, Piper has come to represent that body of younger, post-Brixton 1981 black artists whose work was characterised by what was, in a British context, a new attachment to social and political narratives.
Piper has not sought (though neither has he avoided) this burden of representation and he has shouldered it manfully and without grumbling. Indeed, during the mid to late 80s, when black artists’ group exhibitions of various sizes were popular, there was scarcely such a show that did not include an obligatory and inevitable contribution by Piper.
But this is not the whole story. The 90s saw Piper execute major one-person exhibitions in venues such as the Rochdale Art Gallery, the Ikon Gallery and the Arnolfini (the last venue, as part of his 1992 brainchild, ‘Trophies of Empire’). Piper effortlessly, almost nonchalantly, mesmerised the art galleries of provincial England and reciprocated their affections many times over by delivering exhibitions and installations such as ‘Trade Winds’ and ‘A Ship Called Jesus’…
… These opinions are meant to be more than the expressions of a confirmed Luddite. Piper’s work through much of the 80s was characterised by a drawing ability that was at times awesome and brilliant. Within ‘Relocating the Remains’, these earlier works are re=presented, buried in the depths of new technology. But the original pieces deserve continual viewings – they retain a freshness and an urgency that exposes much of today’s art practice as so much twaddle.
…This exhibition reminds us that, quite simply, Piper’s work, in this country at least, is like nothing else, is like no one else’s. But we must accept the reluctant, sobering realisation that the considerable financial muscle of inIVA, and the indisputable artistic ability of Piper himself, are both insufficient to make any impact whatsoever on the edifice of art establishment indifference and hostility to the work of black artists.
The above extracts are from an exhibition review by Eddie Chambers, "Keith Piper”, Art Monthly, London, Number 209, September 1997: 43-44 [RTTJ]