Topical times for a show that goes Blk to basics

Timely exhibition: Donald Rodney, Britannia Hospital series
Timely exhibition: Donald Rodney, Britannia Hospital series
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ONE of the most anticipated new exhibitions in Sheffield’s calendar opens next week when Graves Gallery hosts The Blk Art Group.

But the topical timing following the recent UK riots is purely coincidental, admits Sheffield Museums curator Louisa Briggs.

Thought provoking: Keith Piper, Black Assassin Saints. Picture credit Keith Piper

Thought provoking: Keith Piper, Black Assassin Saints. Picture credit Keith Piper

Formerly the Pan-Afrikan connection, The Blk Art Group was formed in the early 1980s by a collective of young black artists including Eddie Chambers, Keith Piper, Marlene Smith and Donald Rodney.

They emerged as a creative force in Britain, against the odds maybe but fired up by events at a time when the Conservative government was outspokenly anti-immigrant.

On top of that the British National Party was on the rise and finding sympathetic ears and the Brixton riots were shaking London.

So this exhibition is well timed in the light of fresh rioting and looting in the capital and Birmingham.

Artists in the Blk Art Group movement responded to the crises in race relations both at home and abroad by making work which was angry, defiant and thought-provoking.

Opening tomorrow, this free entry exhibition gathers significant works by Rodney, Piper and Chambers which were acquired for Sheffield during the 1980s.

Rarely displayed since, curator Louisa says they include Rodney’s Britannia Hospital series and Piper’s Black Assassin Saints.

“It was quite strange as the recent riots were happening in the UK because I’d been immersing myself in the early 1980s and all the rioting that was happening then which was spurred by issues to do with the police and targeting of a black person. It did feel like there was a slight deja vu and it does feel quite timely.”

And timely too with the arrival of One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show to the Crucible Studio (see above) and the enduring social issues it raises.

The display will also highlight the important role that regional galleries, including Sheffield, played in supporting and promoting black British art at a time when many public art institutions were reluctant to engage with the political subject matter.

“The Blk Art Group were influenced by the black power movement in the USA and the black struggle there.

“I started working here four years ago and remember going round our stores doing my induction and seeing some of these works and I was incredibly impressed how powerful they were.

“We felt it was important for people to see these.

“It’s quite a contrast to the last show we had – 16th century prints.

“The work is totally different to what we have in the rest of the galleries and it’s probably some of the most political we have in the collection.”