Three Songs on Pain Light & Time (Donald Rodney) 

In 1990, Emmanuel Cooper committed the most terrible faux pas. Somehow, somewhere, he had got hold of the idea that the artist Donald Rodney had departed this life, on the eve of his work being included in a group exhibition in Bristol. In 20/20, the short-lived magazine launched by Time Out, Cooper wrote ‘Rodney, who suffered from a rare blood disease, did not live to see his work in the show, which adds a poignant note to his plea for tolerance and understanding’. An accompanying byline reiterated the message that the artist was no longer with us. ‘Work by the late Donald Rodney can be seen in Bristol’. At the time I remember thinking that it wasn’t much of an obituary – not because Donald Rodney was dead – I knew he wasn’t – but because, well, it just was not much of an obituary.

Six years later, and the Black Audio Film Collective has produced a film about Rodney. Perhaps mindful of Cooper’s appalling blunder, Black Audio and/or the Arts Council of England (which funded the film) seem to be hedging their bets as to Rodney’s longevity. Official blurb about the film tells us that ‘Donald Rodney is an artist whose bones are being eaten away by sickle-cell anaemia, a disabling disease that will eventually kill him’…

…Diseases – cancer, leukaemia, Parkinson’s disease etc – are to an extent afflictions that pay no heed to racial or national boundaries. This is important because in an age in which ‘identity’ has become the most slippery of constructs, ‘sickle-cell’ has become a rock-solid signifier of Blackness and Black people. All Black people might not develop sickle cell, but only Black people will develop sickle cell. And because only Black people are affected by it, the government, the medical profession and the nation at large accord sickle cell scant recognition. At least, that seems to be the prevalent view at the moment. So those who suffer from sickle cell become living barometers of ‘woe is me’ racial injustice, whether they want to be or not. Enter Three Songs on Pain Light & Time

The above extracts are from a film review by Eddie Chambers, “Three Songs on Pain Light & Time”, film review (film about British artist Donald Rodney) made by Trevor Mathison and Edward George (Black Audio Film Collective), colour, sound, Digibeta, 25 mins, 1995, film review, Art Monthly, London, Number 200, October 1996: 65-66