THINGS DONE CHANGE - The Cultural Politics of Recent Black Artists in Britain by Eddie ChambersSu Andi | June 5, 2012
THINGS DONE CHANGE - The Cultural Politics of Recent Black Artists in Britain by Eddie Chambers
Publisher – Rodopi (2012)
The 1980’s were turbulent and difficult time for many, particularly Black people who suffered many injustices and inhumanities due to skin colour and cultural difference. At this time the African Diaspora of the UK were under direct attack and refused to accept the rules of the homogeny that continued to negate them as the ‘other,’ even though previous generations had helped to put the ‘Great’ in Great Britain. This pioneer generation worked tirelessly and endured the continual injustices with a dignified silence. However, during the ‘80’s the line of injustice was crossed and the next generation of misunderstood and misrepresented people stood up and decided enough was enough. The much-maligned Black community, galvanised in heart and mind, found the voice of opposition in art, by embracing and celebrating their difference by reclaiming ‘Black’ and representing and exploring their identity through ‘Black Art.’
‘Things Done Change’ presents a clear narrative of this historical development of Black Art in the eighties, showing the struggles and the triumphs of this challenging yet exciting period of Black art development. Eddie Chambers investigates the profile of Black British artists and interrogates why some were accepted and rejected and he opens the polemic ‘why was Black politics in vogue in the 80’s but not in the ‘90’s? What has changed?
In the chapter 5 ‘Everything Crash’ he explores the Black presence in ‘White Box’ of the ‘90’s and directly challenges Kobena Mercea’s statement that ‘Black British art has now become a recognisable strand in contemporary art. He assets that even though Black artists have achieved Turner prizes along with other awards of perceived notoriety and now sit on the board of large arts organisation, we now have less of a voice than we did in the ‘80’s. He shows through his essay to a detailed narrative of the ups and downs of Black art, how Black artists have been effectively silences by ‘Diversity. He concludes, there is now an explicitly racial dimension to the arts institutions of the country; year on year, the work of Black artists is absent from the walls of the country’s ‘White’ art galleries. Such a desperate state of affairs has not been known in Britain since the ‘70’s.
Prior to reading this book, I had a relatively good understanding of what necessitated the term ‘Black Art’ and why Black artists used their artwork to maximum effect to engage in an aggressive political confrontation. Academics both Black and white have explored and documented this artistic development/struggle. However, ‘Things Done Change’ is refreshing and different in that it goes on to explain why Black artists stood that up to be counted in the eighties have been silenced. This appears strange during these times of diversity and equality, a time when black artists appear to have everything they were fighting for?
A need for ‘change’ brought about the emergence of the 1980’s generation of Black artists, but can the same be said for the favoured artists of the 1990’s. Through acute observations, succinct arguments and coherent critical analysis, Eddie Chambers shows how art establishments rapidly have assimilated the ‘new’, making it the familiar, thus rendering it powerless.
‘Things Done Change’ left me thinking, how do we get back to the honesty of that exciting period of Black Art and why is politics in Black art no long in vogue during a time when the present generation is still vilified as scapegoats for societies woes? What will come from the next generation of black artists and how will they respond or will they be also be assimilated under the ‘New’ and silenced.
© Review by Kevin Dalton-Johnson
Kevin is a sculptor working mainly in clay and a teacher of fine art