Caribbean Expressions In Britain 'Exhibition'

Caribbean Expressions In Britain 'Exhibition'

Caribbean Expressions In Britain 'Exhibition' was an exhibition of contemporary art organised by Leicestershire Museums, Art Galleries and Records Service. Selected by Pogus Caesar, Bill Ming and Aubrey Williams in celebration of Caribbean Focus 1986.

Caribbean Expressions in Britain arose from discussions with Leicester's Caribbean community over what contribution Leicestershire Museums and Art Galleries could make to Caribbean Focus 1986 - a nationwide celebration of Caribbean life and culture initiated by the Commonwealth Institute, London - which had been taken up with great enthusiasm by Leicester's Caribbean Focus committee. Following these discussions it was decided that, among other things (including a new exhibition on the history and natural history of the Caribbean) the Museum and Art Gallery should hold an exhibition to show the remarkable contribution of Caribbean peoples to recent cultural and artistic developments.

At the same time the Commonwealth Institute was already arranging to bring over an exhibition of sculpture and paintings by artists living and working in the Caribbean, and had offered to tour this to Leicester. The solution therefore was to take the exhibition - 'CARIBBEAN ART NOW' from the Commonwealth Institute and to complement it with our own exhibition which would show the contribution of artists of Caribbean origin who have lived and worked in Britain. This complementary exhibition emerged as 'Caribbean Expressions in Britain'.

None of the staff at Leicestershire Museum and Art Gallery had detailed knowledge of Afro - Caribbean art in Britain, so they clearly needed advice and guidance. As a result, they invited three established Afro - Caribbean artists to work as advisors and selectors. Each of these have different areas of expertise: Aubrey Williams, the internationally known Guyanese artist, with his long standing experience of the art world in the Caribbean and Britain, and hence the ability to look at the selection in terms of an international and historical perspective; Pogus Caesar, who, as artist, broadcaster and Director for West Midlands Ethnic Minority Arts Service, was able to share his knowledge of present day culture and community life among Afro - Caribbeans in Britain; and Bill Ming, a sculptor living in Nottinghamshire who has extensive contacts with artists, schools and community groups in the East Midlands.

The first meeting with these advisory selectors, to discuss the themes, aims and parameters of the show provoked many more questions than answers: should an exhibition organised for the Caribbean Focus celebrations concentrate on works with a 'back home' theme or would this give a misleading impression of the concerns of Afro - Caribbean artists in Britain? Should we adopt a narrow definition of fine art, or alternatively include a variety of art forms including crafts and carnival costumes which might visually overshadow the more serious of the fine art works? Could new light be shed on Afro - Caribbean art by adopting an historical perspective, or would it be more appropriate to concentrate on what is happening in Britain in the 1980s? How much should the emphasis lie on those artists who perceive themselves primarily as 'Black' or 'Afro - Caribbean' artists, in contrast to those who identify with a British, international or mainstream framework?

It was also apparent that Caribbean - born artists of great significance had been working in Britain since the early 1930s, and it was considered imperative that the contribution of Ronald Moody in particular should be included. A retrospective element was therefore adopted, which would have the additional advantage of placing present day contributions in an historical context: the first time such a survey had been attempted. To complement this retrospective approach, Errol Lloyd, the expert in this field, was invited to write an historical overview covering the fifty years, as an introduction to the exhibition catalogue. This would provide a much needed piece of research and documentation in an area which has not had the recognition or recording warranted.

The resultant nationwide series of studio visits to shortlisted artists with the advisory selectors was enormously enjoyable and enlightening. Many of the artists that we visited were working in isolation from other Afro - Caribbean artists and producing work of great insight and individuality, to a very high standard. The sculpture, paintings and prints that finally constitute the show are correspondingly varied.

The mojority of artists in 'Caribbean Expressions in Britain' share a common concern in the exploration of their cultural and psychological identity through their work. However this exhibition should not imply the existence of a unified Caribbean school of art or the continuation of a specifically Caribbean artistic tradition. As Emma Wallace noted when surveying contemporary art in the Caribbean "there are no tangible [fine art] traditions stretching back in unbroken lines to Africa or Europe". What we see among Afro - Caribbeans artists living in Britain and the Caribbean, therefore, are new beginnings and fresh vital expressions which draw upon European, Amerindian, Asian as well as African art traditions. The unifying factor among the artists of Caribbean origin working in Britain shown in 'Caribbean Expressions in Britain' seems to lie in shared experiences rather than a shared mode of expression or tradition. At the time of writing however none of us have seen all these works hung together, and it will be interesting, once the show is open, to see if any further common features emerge.

Exhibition venues were The Leicestershire Museum and Art Gallery, New Walk, Leicester 16th August - 28th September 1986. A selection from the exhibition was shown at Central Museum and Art Gallery, Guildhall Road, Northampton 4th October - 1st November 1986. Cartwright Hall, Lister Park, Bradford 8th November 1986 - 4th January 1987, in conjunction with 'Double Visions - Contemporary Afro - Caribbean Art'.

Artists in the exhibition: Simone Alexander, Frank Bowling, Sonia Boyce, Pogus Caesar, Denzil Forrester, Anthony Jadanuth, Errol Lloyd, John Lyons, Bill Ming, Ronald Moody, Colin Nicholls, Eugene Palmer, Veronica Ryan, Gregory Whyte, Aubrey Williams.

Ext Ref: Photographs of Sonia Soyce Eugene Palmer Denzil Forrester (1986) taken by Pogus Caesar: OOM Gallery

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