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British artists actioning change

Following the recent movement towards greater racial equality and understanding through the Black Lives Matter campaign, we would like to spotlight British artists who have challenged perceptions and diversified British visual culture.

The impetus to challenge the politics of representation in art, to improve equality and reflect the diversity of British culture began to emerge in the late 1970s. The British black arts movement evolved from a group of young black artists who established the BLK Art Group in 1979. This group of artists took part in influential exhibitions, inspired by new anti-racial discourse. This was instrumental for challenging perceptions of British art at the time by highlighting how artists with African, Caribbean or Asian ancestry had been marginalised. A challenge that still remains to this day.

Among the artists that forged this group are Sonia Boyce, Lubaina Himid, Donald Rodney and Rasheed Araeen. These artists, among others, were central to action this early movement of change and they have continued to be cultural activists for racial equality and diversity in the arts through exploring ideas and stories around British black identity. If you are interested to learn more about the BLK arts group click here.

You may recognise Lubaina Himid CBE from winning the Turner Prize in 2017, the first black woman to win the accolade. And more recently Himid has been honoured for her services to art. Click here to explore Himid’s colourful artwork by visiting the Tate website to explore Himid’s colourful artwork by visiting the Tate website, where you can also hear Humid in conversation about her art and cultural activism. Himid is especially interested in exploring the lives of black women, exploring friendship and strength through her visual storytelling. Most recently during lockdown, Himid turned her attentions to the British landscape, designing a cover for the latest issue of Vogue magazine. The vibrant cover reflects the ‘haunted’ beauty of the English countryside. Through landscape Himid explores the often-complex relationship between urban and rural heritage for a person of colour. To see the cover and to learn more click here. Exploring relationships and hidden stories through art allows us to understand and challenge both the privileges and inequalities that continues to permeate our everyday life. A large scale exhibition of Himid’s work will be on display at the Tate Modern in 2021 and is not to be missed! With the Tate exhibition programme for 2021 dominated by women, it great to see art institutions trying to redress the gender imbalance.

It is especially important for children and young people to explore culturally diverse art so they can learn and broaden their understanding about race and explore their own cultural identities. Tate Kids offers great online resources for young people can explore influential artists, as well as featuring fun activities and making challenges. Tate introduces renowned artists such as Himid, alongside Chris Offili, the first black artist to win the Turner Prize and Yinka Shonibare among many others. Click here to explore why Chris Offili created art using elephant dung and to find out the meaning behind Shonibare’s uses of fabric in his artwork!

If you visit the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich London, you will be greeted by Shonibare’s playful Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle, which challenges our perception of national and cultural identities as well as addressing our British heritage. To find out more about Yinka Shonibare and this work check out Tate and National Maritime Museum. Behind his visually vibrant work, hidden stories reveal the entangled and complex relationships that infuse both our past and present social history.

Looking more locally, Jamaican born Wiltshire based artist Clifton Powell, is a versatile and dynamic artist who appears equally inspired by the beautiful Wiltshire countryside as he is exploring social disorder and injustice in his latest project UNREST! Click here to browse Powell's website. And you can also keep up to date with his work on Instagram @clifton.powell_

Take the time to explore these artists and the many more who continue to influence and action change through exploring cultural experiences and their visual storytelling.

A few more online resources to explore and keep an eye on in coming weeks:

ARTS & EDUCATION | www.blackbritishvisualartists.com, Art on Lock, an online exhibition featuring artists’ response to lockdown, throughout August.

Social Media: @blackartlibrary @ablackhistoryofart

Late at Tate Britain Online, exploring young creatives’ artistic response to lockdown, through workshops, artists talks, music.

Make with Tate Kids - Live, bringing sessions live to your home for children to enjoy and get creative.