Guildhall celebrates black British artists with No Colour Bar: Black British Art in Action

By William Axtell | 09 July 2015

The story of post-war black British social and political history and cultural heritage is celebrated at London’s Guildhall Art Gallery

A picture of a man at his defaced shop
Eric Huntley surveying a racist attack on his bookshop© Courtesy The Huntley Archives at the London Metropolitan Archives
No Colour Bar: Black British Art in Action 1960-1990, the Guildhall's free exhibition of black British arts, takes its inspiration from one of London's pioneering bookshops, Eric and Jessica Huntley's bookshop and publishing house, Bogle L’Ouverture.

Centre stage is a recreation of the Huntley’s famous shop (later renamed Walter Rodney Bookshop), together with a selection of works by black British artists, an interactive installation by artist and curator Dr Michael McMillan and sound and visual specialists Dubmorphology.

The Huntleys founded Bogle L’Ouverture, named after the Caribbean resistance heroes Paul Bogle and Toussaint L'Ouverture, in 1968. It grew into an extremely important political and artistic hub for black academics and artists from both Britain and abroad.

"They were literary people before they came to this country,” says Katy Pearce, curator at the Guildhall. “It started as a publishing company which ran out of their front room but they moved to a commercial premises and that was the bookshop.

"We wanted to do something to recognise the contribution of Black artists to British art history,” adds Pearce of the exhibition, which celebrates the 10th Anniversary of the Huntley Archives at the London Metropolitan Archives 

A photograph of a painting
Denzil Forrester, Dub Scratch (1990). Oil on canvas© Denzil Forrester, image courtesy Harris Museum and Art Gallery
The work of more than 25 prominent Black artists, including Eddie Chambers, Sonia Boyce, Denzil Forrester and Chila Kumari Burma, is featured. Each refelcts their experiences of Britain and the historical events in which that experience was rooted.

The Guildhall is describing the layout as a "stunning multi-sensory, multi-visual experience" in which art, sculpture, photographs and paintings can be explored next to letters and other artefacts illustrating how black artists were influenced by the emergence of independent African and Caribbean states, global liberation struggles and the struggle for dignified citizenship within Britain.

Four powerful curatorial themes, Elbow Room, Broad Shoulders, Clenched Fists and Open Arms, will help to explain and contextualise this journey since the 1950s.

A photograph of a painting
Winston Branch, Yellow Sky (1970). Acrylic on cotton duck© Winston Branch / UCL Art Museum
During its six-month tenure, No Colour Bar will also host the 10th Annual Huntley Conference on October 10, which promises to address new thinking and ideas raised by the exhibition.

“We are excited to share this vital period in British contemporary history to new audiences and uncover the voices and creative vision of world class Black British artists, who were inspired by, or directly worked with, the pioneering Huntleys,” says project manager Beverley Mason.

Describing the Huntley Archive as "culturally important", Mason says the exhibition "marks a valuable shift in thinking about the approach to opening up and enlivening archives and historical art collections worldwide".

"It’s a great moment in the history of the Guildhall Art Gallery and it’s the perfect venue and location for facilitating these important conversations and showcasing this culturally symbolic archive and thought-provoking works of art.”

No Colour Bar is a Heritage Lottery Funded collaboration between the Friends of the Huntley Archives at the London Metropolitan Archives, the Guildhall Art Gallery and the London Metropolitan Archives.

  • No Colour Bar: Black British Art in Action 1960-1990 runs from July 10 2015 - January 24 2016. Admission Free.

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