Brixton Artists Collective
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The Brixton Artists Collective took a short lease on an empty carpet shop in Atlantic Road, Brixton, London, in June 1983. The three arches were spacious if a little damp. They allowed huge shows to take place which were decided by an open collective of 20 to 50 people. The only membership requirement was that you should simply turn up. Later a voluntary administrator, Andrew Hurman with the help of a committed core of directors, brought some stability to the place for a few more years. Membership cost a concessionary rate of £2 per year. There were open-themed shows such as the 1984 Show as well as shows made by groups with a shared identity. By October 1983, more than 200 artists had the opportunity to show their work.
By 1985 the membership had increased to nearly 100. By 1986 it had increased to nearly 200 and nearly 1000 artists had shown work in the gallery.
In June 1985 Stefan Szczelkun initiated "Roadworks", which was "ten artists working in public for ten days, documenting the work back in the gallery on a daily basis" (Szczelkun, 1987, p. 9). One of the artists in Roadworks was Mona Hatoum, another was Rasheed Araeen. Both of these, now eminent figures in the art world, had other shows at BAG.
Whole émigré communities had shows, including the South African artist community's show in January 1986: Hazel Carey, one of the forces behind the cultural event, expresses amazement at the "magnetic" effect that the Exhibition /performances seemed to have on visitors. "The sound of music - of things happening - drew children and shoppers off the street".
Exhibitions involving immigrant faces challenged the demand that assimilation meant fitting into English mores or accepting ghettoisation[clarification needed]: "Bigos" Polish group and Casa de la Cultura Latino Americana Comite Cultural Chileno, to name but two. And the Campaign Against Apartheid featured prominently through many exhibitions and included exiled South African artists and the Azanian Group and Creation for Liberation. The South African community had few of the boundaries between art forms that exist in the British contemporary culture. The art show included music, dancing and food - their culture was still integrated with life and this made a strong impression on all those who became involved.
The first nationally selected exhibition of Work by Gay Women & Men was held as part of the GLC September in the Pink Festival in 1983. Curated by Ian Rogers and Bruce Currie, it was a ground-breaking event. Further shows were held in 1984, 1986, 1991 and 1992, with Eamon Andrews, Guy Burch, Svar Simpson, Mandy McCartin and Christina Berry as co-ordinators.
Craft and medium were highlighted in provocative ways, whether the provocative automata of Jan Zalad, Christina Berry’s leather cats or Richard Royale's gay-themed banners. Ceramics exhibitors included such diverse names as Kate Mellors, Sarah Radstone, Julian Stair and Pamela Mei Yee Leung many of whom were Lambeth-based and encouraged to exhibit by sculptor Keith King. Painters were diverse from Uzo Egonu and Shati Thomas, to Tony Mo Young and Derek Stockley. Teri Bullen arranged the Soweto Sisters′ Patchwork of Our Lives show in May 1986. Incredibly, she raised funding for all the women members of the collective to come over from Africa to attend the opening in person.
A women's group, Women's Work, formed as soon as the gallery started in the summer of 1983, putting on its first show at the end of November that year. The group put on annual shows which included more than a hundred women. By the end of its first four shows, 172 women had exhibited. After the second year they self-published a book recording their work. The group was allocated two shows per year in the gallery.
In 1984 the group decided one of those exhibitions should be of work by black women artists. A separate Black Women artists group was formed in 1984 and held their first exhibition, Mirror Reflecting Darkly in June–July 1985. The featured artists included: Brenda Patricia Agard, Zarina Bhimji, Jennifer Comrie, Novette Cummings, Valentina Emenyeoni, Carole Enahoro, Elisabeth Jackson, Lalitha Jawah Irilal, Rita Keegan, Christine Luboga, Sue Macfarlane, Olusola Oyeleye, Betty Vaughan Richards, Enoyte Wanagho and Paula Williams.
In 1987 the Gallery closed down due to pressure from the landlord British Rail to put up the rent, the demise of the Greater London Council and a lack of will in the funding organisations. The BAG revived for a while in 1988 in "Bon March", Brixton Road, and in 1990 moved to a location in Brixton Station Road.
1990 - 2005
After a change in the management, the gallery fell under a new directorship with a renewed relationship with the London Borough of Lambeth Council. Artist included David Emmanuel Noel, Salome Smeaton Russell, Paul Jones and Ajamu X. The collective supported greater inclusion and diversity in the representation of exhibitions, talks and events, also involving members of the local community. Featured exhibitions included From Where I Stand, the first exhibition featuring black male artist. It ceased to be an open collective in the early 1990s but continued as a gallery and craft space until 2005 when it closed.
A comprehensive history of the Collective period can be found in Brixton Calling! Then & Now: Brixton Artist Gallery & Brixton Artists Collective and Women's Work: Two Years in the Life of a Women Artists Group, Brixton Art Gallery, 1986.
The gallery was a place for those unable to access mainstream spaces to show their work. Well known names who exhibited often very early in their careers include Mona Hartoum, Zarina Bhimji, Sutapa Biswas, Sokari Douglas Camp, Cathy de Monchaux, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Jamie Reid, Tina Keane, Sandra Lahire, Peter Kennard, Julie Umerle, Rasheed Araeen, Gavin Jantjes, Mary Kelly and David Medalla.
- The collective had clear equal opportunity policies. 50% of the exhibitions were to be organised by Black artists and racist, sexist or homophobic work was spurned. Each year there were designated exhibitions for women artists and regular lesbian & gay artists shows.
- (Dupre, 1999) Francoise Dupre gave a paper entitled "Brixton Artist's Collective" at the Creative Chaos Conference, which was held at the Museum of London, October 1997. Quoted courtesy of Dupre.
- (BAG Newsletter Spring 1986) A collection of the BAG Newsletters (A5 photocopied), which were fairly consistently produced every month or so, together with catalogues and archival material are held at the Tate Gallery Library and Archive.
- Bourgeois, Dooley, Dupré, Enahoro, Greenwood, Müller, Permar, Rogers, Gail (1986). Women's Work: Two Years in the Life of a Women Artists Group. London: The Brixton Art Gallery.
- Brixton Calling! Then & Now: Brixton Artist Gallery & Brixton Artists Collective, ISBN 978-1-902770-13-0.
- The new archive on BAG funded by Andrew Hurman
- an active archiving project with 198 Contemporary Art and Learning, Brixton
- Blog on the above active archive project called Brixton Calling!
- A labyrinth made by women artists at Brixton Art Gallery, led by Francoise Dupre. Filmed by Gail Pearce with Annie Pfingst.
- Transcription of the day seminar on Brixton Artists Collective held in the University of Westminster 5 June 2010 titled "Activating Brixton Art Gallery, 1983-86: Archives and Memories".