Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Notes from the Stuart Hall Library - 2012: No.3 - From: Roshini Kempadoo (Iniva's Animateur for SHL)

I had the privilege of attending and contributing a small part to the conference, held in Wolverhampton on Saturday 28th October organised by the Blk Art Group Research Project entitled: Reframing the Moment: Legacies of the 1982 Blk Art Group Conference. Their hard work and effort to further expose the concepts, aesthetics and thinking associated with artists from the 1982 group including Eddie Chambers, Claudette Johnson, Keith Piper, Donald Rodney and Marlene Smith were important and timely for many of us.

I suspect like many who attended – we were there as an eclectic set of artists, performers, writers and critics collectively wondering how we have found ourselves in a scene that has been so easily and readily unravelled since the mid 2000s. What the blk group conference confirmed since that period was a commitment through a more collective action and effort - to work towards a cultural politics and aesthetics that recognised the importance of: addressing discrimination; recognising the space of marginalisation and hegemonic culture; conceiving of notions of blackness and black aesthetics; and the importance of developing legacy and infrastructure. Their group can be seen within the wider  frame of a period associated with black arts movements of international artists groups formations from 1960s to 1990s.

Documentation and spaces for legacies, conversations and testimonials of movements and arts activism including the blk art group of 1980s are crucial to regrouping and reconsidering what to do next in 2012. I am right now, sitting, researching in a legacy space – a library whose work and acquisition of material speaks volumes about such cultural politics and aesthetics that have long recognised the need to displace and critique European-centred thinking about art.

14:38 – and I have just been given another gem from the SH library that resonates so much with the presentations in Wolverhampton over the weekend. As an uncanny echo, the second special issue of the NKA journal of contemporary African Art, Spring 2012, No. 30, The Black Arts Movement: Testimonials/Documents/Conversations pays homage to the Black Arts Movement in the US mid 1960s -1970s that includes the Weusi Artists/Academy (Weusi was translated as blackness in Swahili) and the AfriCOBRA group (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists). The issue also includes writings about the work of the Brockman Gallery and Gallery 32, Los Angeles. Somewhat unlike the Blk Art Group in Britain in the 1980s, the US black arts groups appeared mostly male whilst being inextricably linked with the civil rights movement and community activism. This second NKA special issue seeks redress through a strong contemporary presence by women including Deborah Willis and Carla Williams The Vénus Noire, Emma Amos in conversation with Courtney Martin and Barbara Jones Hogu with Edna M. Togba, whilst including the artist Coreen Simpson’s Photographic Suite “1+1 = 3” Joining Forces (1986).

My question then becomes – what is the interconnection between such movements and artworks? What was and can be the conversation? And why are they being uncovered now? I am reminded of Stuart Hall letting us know that history always suggests that just as fascism and conservatism is on the rise, a simultaneous counter-movement of social and collective activism also makes its presence felt.

NKA: Journal of Contemporary African Art (2011), 29: Remembering the Black Arts Movement. Durham, NC, Duke University Press.
NKA: Journal of Contemporary African Art (2012), 30: The Black Arts Movement: Testimonials,/Documents/Conversations. Durham, NC, Duke University Press.
Halstead, Richard (1990) 'The Other Story and the Institutional Visibility of Black Arts in Britain from 1980 to 1990.' Location & Institution unknown.
Abraham, Julia Ann Paige (2011), 'Transformation and Defiance in the Art Establishment: Mapping the Exhibitions of the Blk Art Group (1981 - 1983) ', Birmingham:University of Birmingham. See online: http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/3300/


Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Stuart Hall Library reading group discussion post, 11 October 2012

The reading group returned this Autumn after an extended hiatus, and Library staff were pleased to welcome back existing participants, and greet new and curious ones.

Thanks to everyone who attended. A recording of the discussion will soon be available via the library website. You can also listen to recordings of our previous reading group sessions.

We discussed Jenny Sharpe, ‘The Rebels Old Obeah Woman: history as Spirit Possession', in Ghosts of Slavery: a Literary Archaeology of Black Women's Lives (University of Minnesota, 2003).

The text was chosen to offer a closer insight into one of the subjects of the Queens of the Undead. It highlights the processes of contested forms of history, and the way in which written and oral histories relate to one another.

The title of Kimathi Donkor's exhibition ‘Queens of the Undead’ echoes Sharpe’s theorising in her study of enslaved women as figures that ‘haunt’ the present – as Sharpe puts it, p.xi, ‘What if the ghosts of the past are spirits that are doomed to wander precisely because their stories have not been told […] slavery continues to haunt the present because its stories, particularly those of slave women, have been improperly buried’.

Sharpe’s focus in the book as a whole is on the condition of the lives of enslaved women, and the possibilities that existed for gaining agency and autonomy over their lives. She is also interested in the way that the women are represented in the archives and in present day culture.

A section from the introduction: ‘Nanny is a figure of resistance, whose significance as a rebel woman is bound up with Jamaican national independence. It is an indication of her symbolic value to national self-identity that she is the most celebrated woman from the era of slavery in Jamaica. Her powers have become legendary through their embellishment in oral histories, her literary embodiment in poems and novels, and her designation as a national hero'.

‘It is also a sign of the localized effects of knowledge production in decolonised nations that Nanny is relatively unknown in Great Britain and the United States […] Nanny’s authority is not simply the transportation of West African gender roles to the New World but also an outcome of the Middle Passage’s disruption of tradition and the embattled conditions of maroon societies that allowed black women to assume new authoritative roles’. P.xvi-xvii, introduction

The discussion took the text as a starting point: initially Nanny's representation as a historical figure was considered, including her mythical status, an issue that parallells Sharpe's analysis of the contested accounts relating to Nanny in Maroon oral histories and in the archival accounts produced by British colonialists: 'While the British records on the first maroon war derogatorily refer to her as “the rebels old obeah woman”, maroons respectfully remember her as “da great scientist” (p.3).

The nature of Jamaica's perceived national characteristics were also considered, particularly in relation to Nanny's modern status as a Jamaican National Heroine, established in the United Nations International Women's Year, 1975. Sharpe mentions the reasons why Nanny may have been seen as a controversial choice of role model for women, and reading group participants elaborated on her claims, citing the sometimes conservative, often deeply religious sections of Jamaican culture that would have viewed Nanny's 'powers' as being incompatible with their beliefs.

From this, a wider discussion of cultural identity and (self) knowledge ensued, with participants drawing on their individual standpoints and ideas of culture and memory to contribute.

Next meeting: Thursday 15 November, 6.30-8.00. We will be discussing 
Andrea Stuart's extract from ‘Sugar in the Blood', in Granta: the Magazine of New Writing, 119 (Spring 2012).

You are welcome to visit the Library to make a photocopy of the text. If you are having any problems obtaining a copy, please contact us and we will make this available to you.

Email the library for further information or to book your place: library@iniva.org

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Notes from the Stuart Hall Library Fall - 2012:

Roshini Kempadoo - Iniva's First Animateur for SHL 

Two quotes that I really struck me:

The first is the catalogue entry I read from the Pan-Afrikan Connection: An exhibition of work by young black artists (1983):
'In developing our sense of "some bodyness", we are trying to avoid blind mimicry. We are trying to recreate and develop our humanity.'

The second is from Denise Ferreira da Silva's article 'No-bodies: Law, Raciality and Violence' (2009), quoting Foucault: "'the essential role of the theory of right is to establish the legitimacy of power'". (2009: 220)

This by way of an introduction on my part and to those who may be interested in a regular contribution of thoughts, notes, quotes, ideas, responses to my exploring the publications in the SHL, Iniva at Rivington Place, London. As you would have seen on the Iniva website (see: http://www.iniva.org/library/news/stuart_hall_library_animateur), the idea of this is to give more exposure to some of the wonderful material from the library and the (audio/visual/written) Iniva archive. As someone who creates - making artworks using photography, and who writes about art and visual culture, I hope to share with you how I make use of such a library full of beautifully rich material on the visual arts, cultural politics and institutional histories.

I had intended to re-familiarise myself with any work that was associated with the artists and writers involved with the forthcoming conference being organised by the Blk Art Group Research Project 2012 on 27th October 2012. Sonia (the SHL librarian) kindly dug out material for me including a couple of booklets of exhibition documentation and Kobena Mercer's edited series Annotating Art Histories of four publications published by inIVA and MIT press between 2005 and 2008.
But this was not to be...
Instead I read through and prepared myself for a discussion with two writers and scholars about issues of ethics, multiculturalism and cultural politics - equally interesting and so relevant to what I am sure will be part of future discussions, presentations and conversations. The articles I perused are:

Ferreira de Silva, Denise (2009), 'No-bodies: Law, Raciality and Violence', Griffith Law Review, 18: 2, 212 - 236.
Sharma, Ashwani (2009), 'Postcolonial racism: white paranoia and the terrors of multiculturalism', in Huggan, Graham & Law, Ian, (eds.) Racism Postcolonialism Europe, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 119 - 130.

They make for great reading - and inspiration for considering the ethics of violence (as it is enacted onto black Brazilian bodies) and the melancholic space of Europe.
My first contribution to the blog - less wordy, more visuals and hope to have some people commenting. More later.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Inspiration from art and life: Faye De Gannes’ Inside the Coco

Faye De Gannes, self portrait 2012

This blog post is an example of about the power of art libraries to inspire and inform the creative work of artists and researchers:

Faye De Gannes first visited the library in June to gather ideas and inspiration to produce an artist’s book. The idea of artist’s books as a medium for photography was new to Faye – she calls hers an ‘artist’s photobook’. She discussed her ideas with library staff, and together they identified some items from the artist’s book collection that related closely to her requirements. Those books are: Hormazd Narielwalla's Dead Man’s Patterns, a book constructed from a the tailoring pattern of a man’s suit; Leo Asemota’s Testimony, concertinaed book with handwritten text, photographic and diagramatic images, and Stanley Wong’s RedWhiteBlue: here/there/everywhere, two stitched volumes in a bag of plastic material.

Her masters research had been influenced by the social documentary photography of Sebastiao Salgado and Dorothea Lange. Lange’s work prompted Faye to think about her own personal history and relationship to land. She recalls a conversation with her late mother about her childhood, which was spent growing up on a farm in the South of Trinidad.

For her artist’s book project, Faye’s senior tutor advised her to find a subject that would have personal meaning for her; she decided to create a tribute to her mother. Her initial ideas were focused on hand-made, textile, tactile materials, evoking domesticity and ideas of home.

Faye developed the format for her book from a combination of Hormazd’s A3-size brown paper-wrapped book, and the hardback, flexible paper concertina-style of Leo Asemota’s.
The final version of Faye’s book, entitled Inside the Coco, was printed on newsprint paper, covered mount board in net curtain fabric sourced locally (Ridley Road Market in Dalston!) soaked in tea to give it an aged look, concertinaed and bound. The materials chosen for the physical object echo the materials the viewer can see in Faye’s images.

The finished book


Faye exhibited images from Inside the Coco at her graduation show in early September, where the work received a great amount of interest and praise.

Faye plans to build on her project by spending an extended time in Trinidad; her work is scheduled to appear in ARC Magazine in Spring 2013.

For library staff, it has been a pleasure to see the project progress from the start of an idea, to the realisation of a finished object. We will acquire a copy of Inside the Coco shortly.

 Faye De Gannes  graduated in BA Hons in Photography from the University of the Creative Arts, Farnham. She has won freelance business start up awards from the Prince’s Trust and Nets UK and has featured reportage photography in national and international publications.

In 2006 she was awarded a scholarship award for attending a business entrepreneurship programmed at Babson College, Boston MA, for her freelance photography. And also became represented by PYMCA, Alamy, and most recently a contributing member of NUJ, Demotix and Corbis photographic agencies.

In 2012, graduating from the University of Westminster with an MA Photojournalism, De Gannes aspires to be represented by leading international photographic agencies and news feature wires as an emerging editorial photojournalist.