Run Through the Jungle (inIVA, London, 1999)

Edited by Gilane Tawadros and Victoria Clarke

The following text appears on the back cover:

'Eddie Chambers looks on Black Art as ceaseless volcanic activity that smoulders away beyond the explosion of its birth. Beyond its emergence around 1980 - through the fire-storm years of protest marches, petitions, smash-ups, burn outs and sit downs as Black and Asian areas of the English cities cried out against unacceptable conditions, racist violence and policing - Black Art lives on at 2000, not least as a probe for scanning and sounding the art and culture industry, its systemic exclusions and blind spots, its multicultural managerialism. ... He speaks from within the smoky murk and flux when elements of Black life, art and politics where unfolding rapidly and coming into shape. The sometimes prickly, often taut, telegraphic tone rings true - shot through with quite unexpected cool, English understatement and black wit.' - Sarat Maharaj

Run Through the Jungle is a collection of writings by Eddie Chambers, one of Britain's most controversial critics and curators. As artist, curator, archivist and critic, he has maintained his position as one of the most uncompromising voices of the art establishment. A selection of his writings from the early 1980s to the late 1990s are published here for the first time and include seminal texts and reviews such as 'Beyond Ethnic Arts' (Circa, 1985), 'Black Art Now' (Third Text, 1991), 'Whitewash' (Art Monthly, 1988) and 'Johannesburg' (Art Monthly, 1998). This volume is published as part of the inIVA Annotations series - affordable and accessible publications that document and collate writings, artworks, debates and residencies which have taken place in a variety of sites."

With an introduction by Professor Sarat Maharaj, this collection maps out a key period of post-war British art which saw the emergence of an important generation of black British artists and curators.

Run Through the Jungle, a selected collection of Eddie Chambers' writings, was published in 1999 by the London-based Institute of International Visual Arts (inIVA) as part of its 'Annotations' series. The publication is available from inIVA, Amazon, Abebooks, and other sellers.

Run Through the Jungle, press responses

"...Run through the Jungle is not structured chronologically but thematically running back and forth through time. The book starts with one of Chambers' recent texts. But first, let's go back to a time which now seems like a distant epoch; to a time when Britain turned blue and the National Front were on the rampage, back to when pop music and even mainstream politics expressed ideological positions. It was in this period, in the late 70s and early 80s, that Chambers helped to establish 'black art' -- 'No art but black art, no war but class war', declared Chambers. In an interview reproduced in the book, Chambers is asked by Petrine Archer-Straw what he meant by this statement. Chambers replies that he thought it was self explanatory and that the art he was interested in reflected black experiences for black audiences. In another text from 1985, 'Beyond Ethnic Arts', Chambers stresses the importance of Rasheed Araeen's attack on the concept of ethnic art which was also a call for artists to examine the present dominated by western culture rather than past traditions.

In one sense the significance of this book is that it documents the important influences and events of 'black art', which like feminist art practices in the early 70s had little to draw upon other than radical politics, everyday experience and a few marginalised art practices. This might explain the urgency and matter-of-factness of Chambers' writing, an approach still evident in his writing which remains uninterested in what some might call the pleasures of the text, though his writing is peppered with a caustic humour.

Related to the texts on the development of 'black art' are Chambers' sharp observations about survey shows such as 'The Thin Black Line', relegated to the corridor of the ICA, and 'From Two Worlds' at the Whitechapel Gallery. In 'Mainstream Capers' from 1986 he acknowledges the significance of such exhibitions, which were events unimaginable at the beginning of the 80s; but Chambers also points out that the shows were realised on terms dictated by white gallery directors. While black artists selected the shows, the selectors are in turn selected by the directors. Chambers is not only unhappy about tokenism but the feeling that museums and galleries are not bridges to reach black communities. 

… One thing that Chambers makes clear is that the problem has never been a black thing. It has been a white thing too and this has not changed, even if some contemporary black artists are now highly collectable. In 'White Wash' from 1997 he writes that the only time you are likely to see a black person when paying a visit to the National Touring offices in the Royal Festival Hall is when you go to buy a cup of coffee. For this reason alone, Run through the Jungle should be made compulsory reading on all curating courses that are currently preparing the future managers of culture." David Burrows, Art Monthly, June 1999, No 227, page 48

"If there is a defining strand which can be drawn from this collection of essays, it is a determined will to challenge orthodoxy. On one level this means targeting institutions who pride themselves on their liberalism (MOMA and David Elliott being a case in point). On a more interesting level, Chambers refuses to play ball with what he, as a black artist and writer, is supposed to think. So, where most would have expected him to be enthusiastic about Adrian Piper’s exhibition at the end of 1991 (Ikon Gallery, Birmingham), Chambers criticises it for not addressing black British audiences. Again, it is an argument which seems all wrong at first – how can you criticise an African American artist for failing to take into account what the African-Caribbean population would make of her work? But the wider implications are worth thinking about: does the art establishment’s espousal of successful African American artists, traditional non-western art and later, internationalism, have anything to do with an unconscious sigh of relief that it no longer has to deal with Chambers and company? It is a question which feeds into contemporary success stories such as Chris Ofili and Yinka Shonibare – is there a vague feeling of relief that in their success, art institutions can quietly forget about the ranting and raving ‘80s? Again, I think that it is only by considering such issues – the wider context in which the piece was written – that you can get the most out of Chambers. Standing alone, his writing is open to academic nit-picking…

…Chambers is one of the most distinctive voices of recent art criticism in that many of his points are in direct response to ongoing debate, or part of ongoing critiques."

Niru Ratnam, Run Through the Jungle: Selected Writings by Eddie Chambers, Third Text, Volume 13, Issue 46 (1999), pages 104-107