The Women of The Black British Art Movement by [@tinaramosekongoart]

Black British Art

The Black British art movement was an artistic ideological movement developed in the 80s in Wolverhampton Polytechnic by a group of marginalized young black British artists.

Contribution by TINA RAMOS EKONGO.

The Black British art movement was an artistic ideological movement developed in the 80s in Wolverhampton Polytechnic by a group of marginalized young black British artists. According to the Tate gallery, “black artists and intellectuals came together to organize, study and think about what a new black art and black politics movement might be.”

The Black British Art Movement was born in the middle of an unstable social and racial environment of change in the UK where black young creatives found themselves isolated from the rest of the cultural expressions happening at the time. Some of the founders of the movements were part of “The Blk Art Group, a group of young black artists who raised questions about what black art was, its identity, and what it could become in the future” (Tate, 2021)

These artists took part in the exhibition “The Other Story” that took place at the Hayward Gallery in 1989 and it was curated by Rasheed Araeen. The exhibition featured the work of artists from African, Caribbean, and Asian backgrounds. The exhibition showcased with their work, the discrimination suffered by these artists at the hands of western institutions. Among the artists and curators that participated in the exhibition were noteworthy female figures; Lubaina Himid, Sonia Boyce, Claudette Johnson, Marlene Smith, and Maud Sulter.  Who had a great influence on black feminist history and culture in the UK.

Black British Art
Lubaina Himid.

Lubaina Himid.

Lubaina Himid is a British artist and curator, she was born in Zanzibar Sultanate now Tanzania. She is one of the most celebrated artists and curators in the UK. Himid was one of the pioneers of the Black British Arts movement in the 1980s.  Her work includes paintings, sculptures, and installations and is focused on themes such as cultural identities, race, gender, and class.

Himid has organized several exhibitions of work by black women artists, including Black Woman Time Now at the Battersea Arts Centre in London (1983) and Five Black Women, an exhibition in 1983 at the Africa Centre, London. Other exhibitions include: Into the Open (1984), The Thin Black Line (1985), Unrecorded Truths (1986), Out There Fighting (1987), New Robes for MaShulan (1987), and State of the Art (1987).  Into the Open, presented at Mappin Art Gallery in Sheffield, was widely regarded as the first major exhibit of the new generation of black British artists. Naming the Money (2004), presents an exuberant crowd of 100 enslaved people

Himid was appointed an MBE in the June 2010 Birthday Honours for “services to Black Women’s Art” and She was awarded the Turner Prize in 2017 became the first black woman to win it and she is the oldest to be nominated to the award. in the 2018 Queen’s Birthday Honours she was awarded CBE “for services to art.” She is a professor of contemporary art at the University of Central Lancashire.

Black British Art
Sonia Boyce 

Sonia Boyce 

Sonia Dawn Boyce, OBE RA, is a British Afro-Caribbean artist who lives and works in London. She was part of the Black British cultural renaissance of the 1980s. She is a visual artist that has experimented with different media including photography, audiovisual, installation, and text. Although her early work was focused on racial issues and depicted black contemporary life, the main theme continues to be the experiences of a black woman living in a white society and the influence of politics, sexuality, and religion. In 1983 she participated in the exhibition Five Black Women at the Africa Centre, London. In 1989, she was also a part of a female group exhibition “The Other Story” curated by Rasheed Araeen.

In her later works, Boyce used diverse media including digital photography to produce and composite images depicting contemporary black life. Although her focus is seen to have shifted away from specific ethnic experiences, her themes continue to be the experiences of a black woman living in a white society, and how religion, politics, and sexual politics made up that experience.

In 2007 Boyce was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for services to art. In March 2016, Boyce was elected as a member of the Royal Academy. She is currently a Professor of Black Art and Design at the University of the Arts London.

In February 2020,  Boyce was selected by the British Council to represent the United Kingdom at the 2021 59th annual Venice Biennale, she will be the first black woman to do so. 

Black British Art
Claudette Johnson

Claudette Johnson.

Claudette Johnson is a British visual artist from Manchester. She is highly recognized for her large paintings and drawings of Black women, she is considered an artist of the body and one of the most accomplished Figurative artists in the UK. She studied Fine Art at Wolverhampton Polytechnic where she was one of the founding members of the BLK Art Group. In 1982 she took part in the First National Black Arts Conference and her talks and seminars have been considered to be a pivotal moment in the Black feminist art movement in the UK.

Johnson’s work has been featured in important group exhibitions such as Five Black Women at London’s Africa Centre Gallery (1983). Black Woman Time Now at Battersea Arts Centre (1983), and The Thin Black Line at the ICA in London (1986).

See Also

In 2011, Johnson co-founded the BLK Arts Research Group with Marlene Smith and Keith Piper.

Black British Art
Claudette Johnson

Marlene Smith.

Marlene Smith  is a British artist and curator from Birmingham. She was a member of the young black artist group known as the Pan-Afrikan Connection and later would become the Blk Art group that included that included Eddie Chambers, Keith Piper and Claudette Johnson. Smith was one of the main organizer of exhibitions such as Black Art an’ done: An Exhibition of Work by Young Black Artists (1981) and An Exhibition of Radical Black Art (1984) which were the forerunner for what would constitute the future Black and Asian art. She is currently the UK Research Manager for Black Artists and Modernism, a collaborative research project run by the University of the Arts London and Middlesex University. 

Black British Art
Maud Sulter.

Maud Sulter.

Maud Sulter was a Scottish- Ghanaian writer and photographer. Sulter considers herself feminist, her work advocated for black feminism and lesbian groups. She became the only black woman writer for  Sheba’s Feminist Publisher’s Collective in 1982. However, Sulter believed in the need to write about issues affecting black women therefore she and photographer Ingrid Pollard founded the magazine  Black Women’s Creative Project. 1985 marks the beginning of her artistic career with her participation in the exhibition “The Thin Blackline” curated by Lubaina Himid. The exhibition showcased the work of Black and Asian women artists.

She died in 2008  from a long illness. She curated exhibitions and wrote about art history and is considered a great contributor to the history of feminism. Maud Sulter’s work is part of a number of collections around the country, including the Arts Council Collection, the British Council, the Scottish Arts Council, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery, and the Scottish Parliament Collection.

Contribution by  TINA RAMOS EKONGO.

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