Art and Invisibility

A really important article from the Artfund website on the invisibility of Black British artists in the art history, by Eddie Chambers.

I have written on here more than once about the apparent lack of recognition of non-white artists in the  art world, so Chambers’s article is timely. He has also published a book Black Artists in British Art: A History from 1950 to the Present.

Last weekend I attended a discussion ‘Challenging White Supremacy Within The Media & Arts Industry’ presented by  sociologist Kehinde Andrews.* The first task was simply to acknowledge that white supremacy exits in the media & art world. I could list here too many instances and examples of how it operates, but let me offer just one.

I friend of mine approached a gallery owner to show them some work by another friend, a North African artist. She believed that the work was good and the gallerist might be interested in working with the artist. Now this happens all the time and the gallerist can have many reasons for accepting or declining an artist. But this one’s response was so utterly odd, it went something like : “Ah that is really good work. I like it very much. But I can’t really take him on: I already have an African.”

I already have an African????

Now let us unpick this. Does she mean

1/  “My clients are pretty racist and I find it very hard to sell art made by Black (and black-ish) people?”
2/ Or does she mean “There is only really space for 1 or 2 Black artists in this town and I have got my share already.”
Or even
3/ “Oooh, I don’t want to be associated too much with Them. Try a gallery that specialises in Blackness.”

I would argue 2 things:
– that all of the above are true
– that she does not think of herself as racist

It is very difficult because if ‘1’ is true, then it’s hard to argue that the gallerist should be a charity and take on the Black artist knowing she can not sell his work to her racist clients.

We need to have a big, huge, ongoing conversation about the white supremacy that permeates our cultural institutions. As I argued before, racism in the arts impoverishes the arts.

I have more to say about this. Especially on how our repositories of art (museums and national collections) are so deeply in bed with the dealers, like our gallerist, who serve the interests of private collectors  and reflect those collectors’ tastes rather than the national interest.

Eddie Chambers will be talking  about his book at Waterstones Piccadilly on the 14th Nov. Book a ticket by emailing

* It was part of the excellent TINAG festival at Bishopsgate Institute.