Looking Back: First National Black Art Convention held at University
As part of our continued celebrations during Black History Month, the University of Wolverhampton is showcasing a significant moment in history when the first National Black Art (BLK Art Group) Convention to be held in the UK took place at the Wolverhampton School of Art.
The conference was held on 28th October 1982 at what was then Wolverhampton Polytechnic with the aim of raising the profile of black artists and the Afro-Caribbean community through a series of sculptures, paintings and exhibitions. Many of its members studied at the Polytechnic during that time including founding members Keith Piper, Marlene Smith and Claudette Johnson, a visual artist who is a graduate in Fine Art.
Maggie Ayliffe, Head of the University’s Wolverhampton School of Art, said: “This was a really seminal moment for the art world.
“This group of young artists forced curators, art historians and collectors to acknowledge the marginalisation and under-representation of black artists in our mainstream institutions. As we know this work is ongoing – but the diversity of artists selected for the British Art Show 9 that will open in Wolverhampton in March is certainly testament and a legacy of this work.
“Without a doubt, the conditions at Wolverhampton Polytechnic provided an open and inclusive platform for the group and the debate on Black art, as did Wolverhampton Art Gallery who held a subsequent exhibition.”
The BLK Art Group was formed in Wolverhampton in 1979. Originally known as the Pan-Afrikan Connection, the group was inspired by America’s Black Arts Movement (BAM) part of the larger Black Power Movement.
Wolverhampton was a heavily industrial area populated by employees and factory workers from the Caribbean. This influx of immigrants brought into the country to work led to a large Afro-Caribbean community settling in Britain as their new home. The diaspora raised its second-generation who grew into the men and women that would later fuel the BLK Art Group.
This included Claudette Johnson who joined the group about a year earlier. Johnson brought a feminist approach to the collective through her large-scale drawings of black women. Her powerful imagery is rooted in an African heritage; sensual, colourful and demanding viewer’s attention.
History making artists from or associated with Wolverhampton include Willard Wigan, arguably one of the great sculptures in the history of art; Clifford Price (Goldie), a pioneer of graffiti art in Britain; Alf Potter, a pioneer artist of Black British superhero characters and Sylbert Bolton.
Read more about the BLK Art Group in this Black History Month article. Listen to the first BLK Art Group Convention which took place in a lecture theatre in the George Wallis Building, Wolverhampton School of Art via audio transcript and view the original programme here.
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