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Now & Then... Here & There: Black Artists and Modernism Conference
6-8 October 2016, Chelsea College of Arts/Tate Britain

Now & Then... Here & There

Black Artists & Modernism (BAM) Conference

6-8 October 2016, Chelsea College of Arts/Tate Britain


How do artists of African and Asian descent in Britain feature in the story of twentieth century art?

The Now & Then... Here & There conference will address the understated connections between Black-British artists’ practice and the work of art’s relationship to Modernism.

The implied oversight has been highlighted in Kobena Mercer’s Iconography after Identity (2005), where he suggests that an art historical amnesia prevails in relation to Black-British art; of forgetting the artistic object in favour of discussions about ethnicity and identity politics. The result of this focus, Mercer argues, inevitably deflects attention away from the work of art.

An urge to reassess the legacies of Black-British artist’ practice in the twentieth century and beyond has led to the posing of several questions. Not least amongst them, questions that turn our attention to the varied forms of production throughout that period: ‘How do we come to know the work of art?’ Conversely, ‘How do we come to forget the work of art?’ In its primary formulation, this forms the basis of an epistemological inquiry, situated within the disciplinary framework of art history.

Associated discourses, such as museology, curatorial studies and documentary studies will also be marshalled to develop trans-disciplinary tools to pursue this central inquiry.

As an organising principle, the conference will look at the temporal (across generations of practice) and the spatial (narratives of the transnational), as crucial frames to the story of twentieth century art.


Session 1: Modernism
This session will focus on the way in which Modernism has been art historically framed in Britain in relation to the practices of Black-British artists. How might we lay the ground for a discussion about the contribution to British Modernism made by these artists?

Session 2: Artists’ Practices
Through close-readings, practitioners will speak alongside art historians to highlight the practices and after-effects of the work of art, rather than any sociological account that might be made of the artist.

Session 3: Museums and Exhibitions
Different frameworks are needed to unsettle the dominance of socio-political readings of the work of Black-British artists. Can exhibition histories help re-situate theses frameworks and re-characterise the relationship of Modernism to the work of Black British practitioners?

Session 4: Critical Vocabularies
How might we understand ‘internationalism’ as an evolving intellectual project in relation to current contexts of globalisation – and what has been the contribution of Black-British art practice to this project? What models of art criticism/writing exists as an adequate critical language to enable us to re-think what we mean by ‘internationalism’? How are contemporary artistic and curatorial practices generating new narratives of the ‘Transnational’?

Booking details coming soon!

Black Artists and Modernism (BAM) is a 3-year collaborative research project between University of the Arts London (UAL) and Middlesex University, and is funded by the AHRC. ‘Now & Then’ and its related events have been produced in association with Iniva – the Institute of International Visual Arts.