26th Jun, 2022

Works by key black British artists feature in challenging new Coventry exhibition

WORK by key members of the influential BLK Art Group, which included Turner Prize winner Lubaina Himid, is featured in a new Coventry exhibition.

Thirteen Ways of Looking brings together 13 diverse artists and curators at Coventry’s Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in the build up to UK City of Culture 2021.

The show, which runs from October 2 – December 13, looks to explore international, multicultural, multi-faith and feminist perspectives and challenge conventional thinking on a range of issues. It includes six new commissions by emerging artists from the West Midlands, as well as selected key art works by BLK Art Group members Eddie Chambers and Keith Piper who first met in Coventry 40 years ago.

Formed in Wolverhampton in 1979, the BLK Art Group was an association of young black artists who, inspired by the black arts movement raised questions of identity and what black art could become.  Major artists within the group included Eddie Chambers, Dominic Dawes, Lubaina Himid, Claudette Johnson, Wenda Leslie, Ian Palmer, Keith Piper, Donald Rodney and Marlene Smith. Their work had a huge influence on Turner Prize winning artists Chris Ofili and Steve McQueen, director of Oscar-winning film ’12 Years a Slave’.

Keith Piper will be showing THIRTEEN DEAD 1981, created whilst a member of the group, in response to the New Cross Massacre –1981 in which 13 young black people lost their lives in an apparent act of racist violence. No arrests were made  leading to protests from black communities.

While Eddie Chambers’s work, Deconstruction of the National Front, on loan from Tate, will be shown as part of the exhibition. Chambers was a founder member of the BLK Art Group in the early 1980s. Destruction of the National Front depicts the deconstruction of an image of the Union flag shaped as a swastika – in direct response to the use of the national flag by a racist ideology.

The exhibition will also feature ‘How the West Was Won’ on loan from the Tate by the late Donald Rodney, who died from sickle-cell anaemia. It was painted in 1982 when Rodney was only 21, a student at Nottingham Trent University and part of the BLK Art Group. It is accompanied by ‘Autoicon’, a newer internet and CD-ROM work, which simulates both the physical presence and elements of the artist’s creative personality.

Curated by Dr Sylvia Theuri, the development of the exhibition has included professional development and mentoring for the early career artists, to support and help them create new work, particularly in the coronavirus pandemic.

Francis Ranford, Cultural & Creative Director of Culture Coventry, said: “Thirteen Ways of Looking is a powerful and pertinent exhibition which presents a montage of perspectives by a diverse group of artists and curators. Sylvia has curated a show where themes and lived experiences intersect and intertwine to create something quite magical.”

Other artists include:

  • Hira Butt who, through personal experience and conversations with a number of married Pakistani women, seeks to critique both the traditional wedding day and promised life that often fails to materialise.
  • Farwa Moledina creates pieces celebrating Muslim women and depicting iconic moments from the 21st century through pattern and textile; while Andreana Fatta’s research-based practice addresses Cyprus and its complex colonial history with digitised photographs, home videos, letters and literature.
  • Shiyi Li’s collaborative performances telling the story of a Chinese woman moving to the West include contemporary jazz music, multi-screen animation projections, digital media and a live art performance. Navi Kaur focuses on the refugee experience, exploring the lives of her paternal grandparents their Sikh faith and daily regimes through the processes of digital photography, film and installation.
  • Construction sites in fast-growing cities across the world have inspired Matías Serra-Delmar’s site-specific installations in-and-around the Herbert Gallery and Sonya Dyer’s  ‘Hailing Frequencies Open’ – focuses on ongoing videos with black women scientists.

Francis said: “The team have worked incredibly hard to ensure that The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum is a very safe environment for our visitors and we can’t wait to welcome people to this new exhibition.

“We know these have been incredibly tough times for everyone but now, more than ever, art and culture has an important role to play in people’s lives and that is why we were so keen to get this new show open in a safe and secure way for the public.”

All visitors are required to wear a face mask and the venue is required to collect NHS Test & Trace data.

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