- 3 June 2021
- 1:00 – 4:15 pm
- This event is part of London, Asia, Art, Worlds, a multi-part programme of online events taking place in May and June 2021. It is envisioned as a murmuration, a series of interconnected papers, conversations, performances and interventions.
- Zoom Webinar
The Potential Histories and Solidarities panel historicises collective actions of artists and social organisations towards shared aesthetic and political projects.
Chair: Parul Dave-Mukherji (Professor, School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)
13.00-13.15 Welcome & Introductions
13.15-14.00 Keynote: Michael Rakowitz (Artist) and Omar Kholeif (Director of Collections and Senior Curator at Sharjah Art Foundation)
14.15-14.20 Welcome back/Introductions
14.20-14.40 David Morris (Research Fellow and Editor at Afterall), ‘Artists for Democracy and the Vietnam Festival (1975)’
14.40-15.00 Maryam Ohadi-Hamadani (Postdoctoral Research Associate, Yale Center for British Art), ‘A Little Too Much “Commonwealth New Vision”’
15.00-15.30 Discussion & Questions
15.30-16.00 Optional breakout rooms for continued discussion
Artists for Democracy formed in London in 1974 to give ‘material and cultural support to liberation movements worldwide’. They chose to do this through a festival, The Arts Festival for Democracy in Chile, which took place later the same year – a two-week gathering of performance, exhibition and discussion that emerged as ‘a space of conversation and mutual apprenticeship ... that brought together artists from Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas in a multifaceted conglomerate’ (Vicuña 2013). The founding group (including Guy Brett, John Dugger, David Medalla and Cecilia Vicuña) subsequently broke apart, and AFD was reconstructed and found new allies, such as Rasheed Araeen, continuing until 1977.
This contribution will address phases and contradictions in modes of solidarity and collective practice as seen through AFD, with particular attention to their 1975 festival and collective exhibition for Vietnam – described at the time as ‘a series of environments made of simple, often waste, materials’ – the details of which are little-known. The contribution will develop a historical account and analysis of the festival through the perspectives of participants and others with a stake in its legacies.
Considering the festival’s positioning with and towards Southeast Asia, this contribution will also use these accounts and moments to gain perspective on contemporary questions of solidarity, artist organising and the festival-as-form.
In the 1960s, independent galleries like New Vision Centre, Gallery One, Woodstock Gallery and Indica Gallery gave artists immigrating from the Caribbean and South Asia their first solo exhibitions in London, but as Balraj Khanna put it regarding his own experiences in trying (and failing) to find gallery representation as a young artist: ‘Black has never been beautiful in Cork Street.’ During this decade, the ‘Commonwealth’ proliferated as an organizing principle for group exhibitions throughout Britain of work by émigré artists from the new Commonwealth. Anxiety surrounding Britain’s standing as a world power in the wake of decolonization led to soft power attempts by various governmental organizations including the Central Office of Information to promote the growing Commonwealth abroad and at home, which also included exhibitions of contemporary art.
Official exhibitions held at the Commonwealth Institute including Commonwealth Art Today (1962), or the Royal Academy of Art’s 1965 exhibition Treasures from the Commonwealth contrasted with artist-organized exhibitions such as New Vision Centre’s Transferences at Zwemmer Gallery (1958) and the Commonwealth Biennales of Abstract Art in 1963 and 1965. Borne out of necessity owing to a lack of exhibiting opportunities, these artists, many of them students, would form coalitions like The Young Commonwealth Artists and the Commonwealth Painters Group as platforms to exhibit their work in solidarity and in response to their exclusion from mainstream exhibitions such as the annual Young Contemporaries exhibitions.
By examining these exhibitions and others, and the early career practices of artists including Anwar Jalal Shemza, Avinash Chandra, Aubrey Williams, and Frank Bowling, this paper provides a situational and contextual understanding of these short-lived networks that formed during this period. Focusing specifically on the politics of postwar abstraction and the sociopolitical implications of immigration legislation and Commonwealth cultural production in Britain, this paper also grapples with concepts of the universal and particular which framed exhibiting practices and critical reception during this period of burgeoning globalization.
London, Asia, Art, Worlds is convened by:
Hammad Nasar, Senior Research Fellow, Paul Mellon Centre
Ming Tiampo, Professor, Art History, and Institute for Comparative Studies in Literature, Art and Culture, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada
Sarah Victoria Turner, Deputy Director for Research, Paul Mellon Centre
Image caption: People of the World Learn from Indochina Arts Festival, Artists for Democracy, London, 1975. Poster design: Lynn MacRitchie/David Turner. Digital image courtesy of Lynn MacRitchie
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About the speakers
Parul Dave-Mukherji is professor at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India. She holds a PhD from Oxford University. Her publications include: InFlux: Contemporary Art in Asia, (co-edited with Naman P. Ahuja and Kavita Singh) Sage, New Delhi, 2013); ’Whither Art History in a Globalizing World’ The Art Bulletin 2014; Arts and Aesthetics in a Globalizing World, (co-edited with Raminder Kaur, Bloomsbury, 2014); ’Art History and Its Discontents in Global Times’ in Art History in the Wake of the Global Turn, eds. Jill H Cassid and Aruna D’Souza, Massachusetts: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 2014 ; Ebrahim Alkazi: Directing Art – The Making of a Modern Indian Art World (ed. Mapin, New Delhi 2016); Rethinking Aesthetics in a Comparative Frame (co-edited with R. N. Misra), IIAS, Shimla 2020). Her forthcoming publication 20th Century Indian Art (co-edited with Partha Mitter and Rakhee Balaram) will be published by Thames and Hudson, London, by the fall of 2021.
David Morris lives in London. He is a research fellow and editor at Afterall, working particularly on the Exhibition Histories series. His work explores different approaches to artistic research, education and exhibition, with a particular focus on experimental and collective practice. He is co-editor, with Sylvère Lotringer, of Schizo-Culture: The Event, The Book (Semiotext(e)/The MIT Press, 2014); with David Teh, of Artist-to-Artist: Independent Art Festivals in Chiang Mai 1992–98 (Afterall Books, 2018) among other publications. With Helena Vilalta he leads a research masters' programme in exhibition studies at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London.
Maryam Ohadi-Hamadani is a postdoctoral research associate at the Yale Center for British Art. Her research interests include postcolonial cultural studies, critical race theory, transnationality and diaspora, and the politics of postwar abstraction and visual culture. She has curated exhibitions for the Cleveland Foundation and the Wichita Art Museum, and has held positions at the Cleveland Museum of Art; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland; the Ulrich Museum of Art; and Tate Liverpool. Currently, Ohadi-Hamadani is working on two upcoming exhibitions at the Center, a survey of work by Bridget Riley and an exhibition of prints and drawings from the permanent collection. She has published on artist Denis Williams in NKA: Journal of Contemporary Art (November 2019) and her chapter ‘The Commonwealth of British Pop: Race, Labor and Postcolonial Politics in Frank Bowling’s Mother’s House series’ in Pop Art and Beyond: Gender, Race and Class in the Global Sixties (Bloomsbury, 2021) is forthcoming.
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