Curator’s Choice: Louisa Briggs on a Blk Art Group piece by Eddie Chambers at the Graves

By Louisa Briggs interviewed Ben Miller | 25 August 2011
A photo of a woman looking at a piece of collage art across a wall
Curator's Choice: In her own words... Museums Sheffield Curator of Visual Art Louisa Briggs on How Much Longer You Bastards?, a 1983 work by Eddie Chambers which is currently part of the Blk Art Group show at the city's Graves Gallery.

"The Blk Art Group emerged at a time of social unrest and widespread racial tension throughout Britain during the early 1980s.

They were a group of radical young artists and art students who organised a series of exhibitions and events to raise the profile of contemporary black art practice in Britain at a time when black art was almost invisible.

Although the group altered over time, several artists remained at its core: Eddie Chambers, Claudette Johnson, Keith Piper, Donald Rodney and Marlene Smith.

Eddie Chambers created this work in 1983. It refers to the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

There had been sustained and systematic discrimination against black people by the South African government and during the 1970s and 1980s uprisings and violence increased. In Britain, Barclays Bank became a symbol of the South African apartheid because of its involvement there.

There were widespread protests here aimed at companies with South African links demanding that they withdraw, and also at the Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government for its refusal to impose economic sanctions.

How Much Longer You Bastards? describes the horror felt about the inhumanity and brutality of the situation in South Africa, but also the frustration about British companies’ refusal to engage with the issues.

It’s not only the subject matter and context in which the work was made that I find interesting. The work itself has a strong visual impact.

Chambers often used found images in his work and here he has incorporated the shares pages from The Financial Times, part of a Barclays Bank billboard and a well-known media photograph from the Soweto uprising of 1976 which shows parents carrying their dead child. Although this work was created almost 30 years ago, it has lost none of its power. 

Sheffield held several key exhibitions of contemporary black artists’ work during the 1980s, and most of these pieces were collected though those exhibitions. A lot of them are made from everyday materials and were created 30 years ago, so they haven’t stayed in a very good condition.

This has meant that we haven’t been able to display them for a long time. This exhibition was the opportunity to conserve these significant works from the collection and get them back out on display.

This has been a fantastic exhibition to work on. Since I began working in Sheffield four years ago, I’ve wanted to curate an exhibition focusing on the Blk Art Group – not only because the group itself was so important in raising the profile of black art in Britain, but also because we have such fantastic works by the artists in our collection.”

  • Blk Art Group is at the Graves Gallery until March 24 2012.
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