THE WORK BETWEEN US:
BLACK BRITISH ARTISTS & EXHIBITION HISTORIES
Wednesday 20 January 2016
Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool, UK
Trophies of Empire
Trophies of Empire was a series of commissions that Bluecoat, working with partners in Liverpool, Bristol and Hull, presented in 1992-93 against the backdrop of the Columbus Quincentenary and the Maastricht Treaty that would herald the European Union. The commissioned artworks were made in response to the legacies of British imperialism and colonial expansion and the traces of these processes are still evident in the three English port cities. This presentation will describe the project’s curatorial process. This developed from an initial idea by artist Keith Piper whose own video installation, Trade Winds, created specifically for Merseyside Maritime Museum, drew on research about Liverpool’s slave trade legacy and global capital, which then broadened out into a series of 15 commissions selected from an open submission. This paper will reflect on the work in the exhibitions and the performances, using documentary images, texts, press responses and a subsequent publication, to analyse the extent to which ‘Trophies’ offered a different model to the ‘black group exhibition’, not least in being open to any artist; and how, taking as a starting point a highly charged anniversary, artists were able to interrogate histories that continue to impact on and inform our political, economic and cultural realities. The presentation will conclude with an overview of another collaborative exhibition that followed in 1997, Independent Thoughts, initiated by Bluecoat in partnership with galleries in the North and Midlands. This adopted a similar curatorial model – interrogating political and cultural histories and their continuing legacies – and was staged on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Indian Independence and the Partition of Pakistan. The exhibition concept was also initiated by an artist, Juginder Lamba, and commissions were selected from an open call, open to any artist.