MA History of Art

“There ain’t no black in the union jack”: Race and Nation in Postwar Black British Art

Indie A. Choudhury

This MA Special Option considers the formation of Black British art and its changing iterations from the postwar generation to its legacy and present-day configurations.

While the history of artists from the black diaspora in the UK predates 1945, Black British art developed perceptibly within the landscape of postwar British art in the aftermath of the second world war amidst global decolonization and mass migration. We explore this “first wave” of postwar black British artists through the evocations of postcolonial identity and national belonging. We consider the distinct constellation of African, Caribbean, and Asian artists within a broader generation of Commonwealth artists; designated by a perceived communal “blackness” and how this became emblematized in their art.

In the 80s, the Black Art Movement became the central marker of Black British Art through which artists began to deconstruct ideas of race and nation alongside constructions of a new black British identity and its representation. We will examine the seminal BLK Art Group and their evolution as individual artists. Complicating these ideas and the apparent inclusivity of the movement were the contributions of women artists of African, Afro-Caribbean, and South Asian origin such as Lubania Himid, Veronica Ryan, and Chila Kumari Burman. Here we consider the changing constitutions of “black” Britishness; its alliances and at times, divergences in cultural, political, and aesthetic solidarity. Sexual identities and the AIDS crisis further complicated issues of black homogeneity and sexual otherness within a wider framework of race and its representation. While choice of medium was often at the behest of economic and material access, it also lent itself to formal experimentation such as Keith Piper’s collage techniques, Isaac Julien’s audiovisual bricolage, and the montage film essays of the Black Audio Film Collective. We will investigate how questions of media specificity, innovation, and blackness became linked in this period.

To understand the theoretical and conceptual underpinnings, we will consider foundational texts by Stuart Hall, Paul Gilroy, Kobena Mercer plus artist-scholars such as Eddie Chambers and Rasheed Araeen. In tandem, we will evaluate the impact of black art exhibitions such as “The Other Story,” “The Thin Black Line,” and “Black Art an’ Done” and within an institutional critique of designated black art spaces, and more recently, through mainstreaming and integration. As the YBA (Young British Artist) generation and the cultural resonances of “Brit Art” began to cultivate a seemingly more expansive notion of Britishness, we conclude by considering the legacy of Black British art within national, international, and transnational contexts of Afro-Britishness through figuration and the politics of identity. Complemented by museum/ gallery and studio visits, this option includes guest lectures by artists.

Please note: site visits in the UK and further afield are subject to Covid-19 guidelines.

Course Leader: Indie A. Choudhury

In the event that a course leader is on sabbatical, takes up a fellowship, or otherwise is not able to the teach the course, they will be replaced by another experienced course leader either for the autumn term, or in some cases, the academic year.

Accepting late applications MA History of Art

Special Options 2022/23

Please Note: Special Options vary from year to year and are subject to demand. The Courtauld reserves the right to amend or withdraw the options which run if necessary, and will always directly inform all applicants of any changes via email and our website.