A look back at the Blk Art Group exhibition

Mar 21 2012

We’re down to the final four days of the Blk Art Group exhibition at the Graves. It’s been a busy few months - visitors have travelled from as far away as America, and we’ve had enquiries about it from across the world. The exhibition seems to have struck a nerve – ‘vital’, ‘powerful’, ‘important’ are just some of the words that have appeared repeatedly throughout the visitor comments book.  It seems the exhibition hasn’t only had an impact on visitors to theGraves. It has provided the artists from the Group with a chance to reassess their work and its continuing relevance. We’ve been in touch with the artists throughout the research period for the exhibition, initially to consult them on conservation and then later on to borrow artworks. Our questions led the artists to look back through their own archives and to make some interesting discoveries.

In our search for some work by Marlene Smith, the only artist from the group not represented in Sheffield’s collection or anyone else’s for that matter, Marlene went into her loft and unearthed recordings of the ‘First National Black Art Convention’ from 1982. This conference was organised by members of the group to debate issues around black art and it was attended by artists and arts practitioners from across the country, from both the younger and older generation of black artists. It was an important moment in their history and remarkable that they had the foresight to record the event.

At the symposium we held in February this year, the artists announced the Blk Art Group Research Project 2012. There are plans for an international conference at Wolverhampton School of Art and Design in the autumn to mark 30 years since the first convention, and plans for a touring exhibition amongst other things. So, although it will be sad to take the exhibition down, it does mark the start of a new phase of activity examining the group’s activity. Details of the project can be found on their facebook page here 
It’s pretty fantastic that what started out as modest exhibition with Sheffield’s collections at the heart, has become a bigger project with a longer legacy. That’s not to say these things wouldn’t have been rediscovered or have happened anyway, but it’s good to think that the show at the Graves helped provide a catalyst for this.


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