Third Text: Black Art Now

How can I talk about Black Art, removed from the reality of the world around? I can however start by saying that I have no new ‘position’ to argue for or defend. I have personally nothing more to say than what is already known. This has not always been the case. In the early ‘80s, I did have, along with a number of other young Black artists and art students, a lot to say, a lot to argue for, and we held a constantly defended radical position.

In brief, our position was that as Black artists we were under obligation to make work which unreservedly aligned itself with the struggle of Black people; we fought against racism in our work, and sought to enhance and be part of a distinctly ‘Black’ culture and its political identity.

I remember in late 1979, or early 1980, standing on the steps of Wolverhampton Art Gallery with my comrades Keith Piper, Ian Palmer and Dominic Dawes. We had just been offered an exhibition to take place in about 18 months time. (This exhibition would eventually be called Black Art an’ Done.) We joked about pioneering a new form of art. Excited, happy, confident, we called it ‘blackism’.

A year later, the exhibition began to take shape, and the essentially American term ‘Black Art’ had irreversibly found its way into our individual and collective vocabulary. Years later, use of the term was to become sloppy, problematic, and ultimately somewhat counter-productive. But in 1981, with Brixton having lit the fuse, and st. Paul’s having already gone up in smoke, the term ‘Black Art’ adequately and fittingly embodied our militant aspirations and posturing.

Keith Piper and I were perhaps the most rhetorical, but the loose association of young Black artists and art students with whom we worked in the early ‘80s, willingly fell into line on our definition and trumpeting of Black Art.

The above extracts are from a text by Eddie Chambers, “Black Art Now” that appeared in a special issue of Third Text, Number 15, Summer 1991: 91-96