D for 12 was a unique opportunity for art form networking, challenging debate and thought provoking reflection
Emory Douglas worked as the Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party from 1967 until the Party disbanded in the 1980s. His graphic art was featured in most issues of the newspaper The Black Panther (which had a peak circulation of 139,000 per week in 1970) and has become an iconic representation of the struggles of the Party during the 1960s and 70s. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Douglas “branded the militant-chic Panther image decades before the concept became commonplace. He used the newspaper’s popularity to incite the disenfranchised to action, portraying the poor with genuine empathy, not as victims but as outraged, unapologetic and ready for a fight.”
As a teenager, Douglas was incarcerated at the Youth Training School in Ontario, California; during his time there he worked in the prison’s printing shop. He later studied commercial art at San Francisco City College.
Emory visited BAA whilst his exhibition was on at URBIS Manchester
“July 2008 I was preparing for my journey from the US to Manchester England, not knowing I would be invited by SuAndi to such a lovely dinner hosted by her, with 12 guests. It was an enjoyable evening, good conversation and extremely good food. Much appreciated, Emory Douglas
Reflections on ‘Dinner for Twelve’ July ‘09
To a certain extent my participation in Dinner for Twelve sunmmoned up the sensation of being a throw-back to former times. This is because my association with black people and my involvement in debates relating to Black Art in Britain has been considerably reduced in the last 15 years, since the days of projects promoting the ideas of black artists, and since my move to Italy in 2001.
I found myself more of a spectator than someone who could offer an informed opinion on what was going on in the UK as far as visual art and the black community was concerned. Which left me to fall back upon a number of personal convictions which seem to have stood the test of time, mixed with a spattering of intuitive comments. Fortunately my fellow guests appeared to lend a sympathetic ear to these observations from a partial outsider .
The guiding principal of the evening was the informal nature of the gathering – a group of friends with some common histories chewing the fat – where the guest speaker had been entreated not to prepare a speech (’nothing so formal!’).
This entreaty was immediately relaxing, but came accompanied by a sense of guilt for being expected to simply ‘put in an appearance’, and enjoy an evening of conversation and delicious home-made food, without engaging in an activity which I could identify as being ‘work’. The informality, however was the key to the success of the evening; a non-forced dialogue emphasised the primacy of ’socializing’ over ‘making a living’ or being ’serious’. So what emerged ? I remenber the following issues being discussed :
- Being a black man with a white partner in Italy.
- How black people are generally perceived in Italy ( door to door salesmen )
- History of Black Artist Movement in UK – the dilemma of art being a borgeois practice – the current character of the movement as compared to the old days.
- The exchange of information about common acquaintances from the 80’s and 90’s.
- The lack of opportunity for young black people searching for a ‘voice’ in the Arts.
- My etching sequence ‘History of the Benin Bronzes’
- The lack of funding for BAA in particular, and for black arts promotion in general
- Different epithets for self identity -:English’ and ‘British’.
- Garden party at Buckingham Palace.
- Schism between BAA members promoting the political angle of Black predicament, and those who present a ’soft’ or hackneyed picture.
- The phenomenon of seeking out ‘fellow-blacks’ at a predominantly White conference or gathering.
The lasting impression of my experience is the reinforcement of the complexity of ‘being black’ – the strange ticket that is attached to us -each different individual, each with a black history, a personal history, a history as a human being, a woman, a man.