…Substantial references to this exhibition include a review by Rasheed Araeen, published in Black Phoenix (‘Afro Caribbean Art’, Black Phoenix, No. 2 Summer 1978 pp. 30-31), and a review ‘In View’ by Emmanuel Cooper, contained in Art & Artists, Hansom Books, London Vol. 13, No. 3, Issue 148, July 1978. A feature on Drum Arts Centre, titled ‘Drum Call for Black Britain’, written by Taiwo Ajai, had appeared several years earlier in Africa magazine, No. 44 April 1975 p. 43.
The critique of the exhibition by Araeen offered what he considered to be substantial pointers to the limitations of cross-art form exhibitions that had as the criterion for their existence the supposed racial or ethnic commonality of the exhibitors. Cross-art form group exhibitions of work by black artists represented a knotty contradiction of sorts. On the one hand, these exhibitions represented an apparent marginalising, or separating, of these artists from the mainstream.
Simultaneously, however, the bringing together within one exhibition of all manner of artworks emphasised the degree to which the exhibitors perhaps had little in common beyond shared ethnicity or related ethnic identities. Araeen sought to trash not just the premise on which the exhibition apparently rested, but also took on the role of art critic, expressing the sorts of sentiments at which Evening Standard critic Brian Sewell would come to excel, making him, in the 1980s and 1990s, the art world’s pantomime villain of choice. So it was that Araeen snorted that ‘Afro-Caribbean Art’ contained ‘no surprises and the painting section is particularly bad’.
Araeen set about poking holes in the exhibition with much vigour. He was, though, not only critical of the exhibition itself, but also damning about the work of several of the artists and in this regard. Frank Bowling’s work came in for particularly withering criticism: ‘Three works by Frank Bowling, who is supposed to be internationally well known, might have impressed us 20 years ago. In fact, we would certainly have credited him if he had innovated this method of throwing paint directly on the canvas or contributed further to its development. Now one has to be ignorant, or pretend ignorance, to appreciate what is no more than a decorative pastiche of the outmoded styles of the post-abstract expressionist period in New York.’ For good measure, Araeen added that: ‘They might look beautiful in somebody’s house or office but have nothing to say. (This criticism, in fact, applies to many artists today, black and white, who are dabblingly pursuing a kind of mannerism.’
Just over a decade later, several of the artists in ‘Afro-Caribbean Art’ – Bowling, Himid and Locke – made it into (or agreed to be represented in) Araeen’s 1989 exhibition, ‘The Other Story’, by which time the April 1978 exhibition had well and truly slipped into its own emphatic obscurity
The above extracts are from “Afro-Caribbean Art”, in Art Monthly's 'Missing Issue' of April 1978, finally published in June 2017, pp. 16-17 of the issue