Black Artists and Modernism (BAM) was a landmark, 3-year research project led by UAL in partnership with Middlesex University. It was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) between 2015 and 2018.
There are both understated connections and areas of contention between Black British artists’ practice and their art in relation to Modernism. BAM explored these through:
- an audit of works by artists of African and Asian heritage in public collections across the UK
- close readings of artworks
- study days and conferences.
Over 30 major national and municipal public collections of art across the UK supported and participated in BAM's research.
Explore highlights from the project below and find information about exhibitions, displays, publications and talks from the BAM team.
Whoever Heard of a Black Artist? Britain’s Hidden Art History
This BBC documentary explores UAL's research to uncover hidden works by Black British artists often forgotten within the UK’s public collections.
Presented by Brenda Emmanus, the programme follows UAL Professor Sonia Boyce and her team as they rediscover these rarely seen works. They revisit groundbreaking artists from the Windrush generation, the 60s counterculture revolution and the Black Art movement of the 80s.
The lead research consultant was susan pui san lok. Contributors include Rasheed Araeen, Lubaina Himid, Yinka Shonibare, the BLK Art Group and Althea McNish.
National Collections Audit
The BAM research was underpinned by an audit of artworks in 30 out of the UK’s 3,000 public art collections, led by Dr Anjalie Dalal-Clayton, Decolonising Arts Institute Research Fellow.
The audit identified over 2,000 artworks by 363 artists of African, Caribbean, Asian and Middle Eastern and North African descent who were born in, lived, worked or studied in the UK.
Exhibitions and displays
Speech Acts: Reflection-Imagination-Repetition
Manchester Art Gallery (May 2018 - April 2019)
The Speech Acts exhibition was developed as part of, and in conversation with, Black Artists and Modernism. Featuring over 70 works by 40 artists drawn from 4 regional municipal collections, 'Speech Acts' considered how public museums reflect and shape the collective imagination, and examined how exhibitions can affect these shared narratives.
This exhibition showed how artworks can inspire new stories if they are presented beyond the limited frames of biography and identity.
- Read more about Speech Acts: Reflection-Imagination - Repetition from Manchester Art Gallery.
Now! Now! exhibition
UAL Chelsea College of Arts, Cookhouse and Triangle Galleries (October 2016)
Now! Now! was a temporary display curated by Sonia Boyce, which coincided with the BAM conference titled 'Now and Then,.. Here and There…' at UAL Chelsea College of Art and Tate Britain. The show featured 15 artists who can be said to share a preoccupation with the lens and its histories.
- Watch the presentations from the 'Now and Then,.. Here and There…' conference.
Gavin Jantjes Korabra series: The Return
Herbert Gallery and Museum, Coventry (2016)
This temporary display reunited 4 out of a series of 7 large-scale paintings by the artist Gavin Jantjes.
The Korabra paintings were made on location in 1986 during a residency at the Coventry West Indian Association. The BAM audit revealed that this series of works was held by 3 neighbouring collections - Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Birmingham Museum and Gallery and the Herbert Gallery and Museum in Coventry.
The BAM project brought all 7 paintings out of storage for a study day with scholars, curators and the artist himself. This led to a new display and context labels for the paintings at the Herbert.
- Read an article about the Korabra series by David Dibosa in Art History journal.
Art History special issue: Reconsidering Three Moments
This June 2021 special issue of the journal 'Art History' was guest edited by Sonia Boyce and Dorothy Price. It took as its point of departure Stuart Hall’s essay 'Black Diaspora Artists in Britain: Three 'Moments' in Post-war History’.
'Reconsidering Three Moments' focuses on the multi-faceted genealogies of Black British modernism since the arrival of the ‘Windrush generation’. It re-centres attention on the material and conceptual nature of works by Black British artists, to ask how a reappraisal of their work can contribute to an expanded understanding of modernism.
Contributors include: Sonia Boyce, Alice Correia, Katy Deepwell, David Dibosa, Lubaina Himid, Joleen Loh, susan pui san lok, Kobena Mercer, Dorothy Price, Maud Sulter and Allison Thompson.
- Read the Art History June 2021 special issue.
Conceptualism - Intersectional Readings, International Framings
Read a collection of revised and expanded papers from the conference 'Conceptualism: Intersectional Readings, International Framings, Black Artists and Modernism in Europe Since 1968' that took place at the Van Abbemuseum in December 2017.
This substantial e-publication is edited by susan pui san lok, Sophie Orlando and Nick Aikens.
It includes essays and texts by Nick Aikens, Juan Albarrán, Lotte Arndt, Eva Bentcheva, Sonia Boyce, Jennifer Burris, Valerie Cassel Oliver, Laura Castagnini, Alice Correia, Sandra Delacourt, David Dibosa, Fabienne Dumont, Iris Dressler, E. C. Feiss, Annie Fletcher, Alexandra Kokoli, Charl Landvreugd, Elisabeth Lebovici, Christa-Maria Lerm Hayes, susan pui san lok, Sophie Orlando, Sumesh Sharma, Sarah Wilson, and Wei Yu.
- Watch the Black Artists and Modernism 2015-2018 playlist of talks, interviews and event recordings on the Decolonising Arts Institute YouTube channel
- Watch the British Art Network Seminar Series: Objects of Attention, part of the Decolonising British Art series curated by susan pui san lok. This first seminar focused on a collaboration between the AHRC-funded Black Artists and Modernism research project and MIMA (Middlesbrough Museum of Modern Art)
- Listen to Decolonising Arts London podcasts on SoundCloud.
- Professor Sonia Boyce (Principal Investigator)
- Professor susan pui san lok (Co-investigator)
- Dr David Dibosa (Co-investigator)
- Dr Anjalie Dalal-Clayton (Postdoctoral Research Fellow)
- Professor Paul Goodwin (Researcher)
- Dr Sophie Orlando (Researcher)
- Marlene Smith (Researcher)
- Hammad Nasar (Researcher and Curator)
- Naomi Bulliard (Project Manager)
- Eloise Cameron-Smith (Project Administrator)