Q&A with Margaret Andrews - Museums Association

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Q&A with Margaret Andrews

The story of black British art from the 1960s to the 1990s
Nicola Sullivan
Margaret Andrews, chairwoman of the Friends of the Huntley Archives at the London Metropolitan Archives (FHALMA), talks about the creation of an exhibition looking a black British cultural identity.

No colour bar: black British art in action 1960-1990, which is on at the Guildhall Art Gallery until 24 January, focuses on the life works of Eric and Jessica Huntley and the Bogle L’Ouverture Press, a publishing house and  pioneering bookshop and cultural hub that they founded in 1969.

How did the exhibition come into fruition?

The project emerged organically from nine years of conserving and actively animating the archives of Eric and Jessica Huntley at the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA). To date nine annual conferences have been held in collaboration with LMA. 

Building on the positive feedback from our 2012 conference, Arts and activism: culture and resistance, the project continues to explore the idea of black British cultural heritage and the historic importance of cultural hubs to the development of artistic identity. The project also examines the role of black British arts movements on their communities’ development, identity and wellbeing.

FHALMA developed the project over a period of three years in partnership with LMA and the Guildhall Art Gallery. Funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund was critical for the development and delivery of the project.

Are there any related community/education projects?
As part of the project we have a programme to engage more people and target different age and ethnic groups, from the capital and beyond. Through a programme of talks, performances, readings and tours we are engaging community organisations that the FHALMA has not, so far, had the resources to engage.

LMA also delivered a successful summer school based on the project, which attracted young people from different backgrounds across London. Our education programme specifically targets schools, as well as arts and humanities students and staff in further and higher education institutions.

Specific groups, such as pensioners and religious groups are part of our target group. In 2016 a digital tour of the exhibition will be taken to Hackney Community College the Black Cultural Archives and Hackney Museum.

What are the different elements of the exhibition?

The exhibition is made up of photographs, sound, videos, music, visuals, objects and artworks, set in the newly commissioned bookshop installation dedicated to political activist Walter Rodney. Designed by Michael McMillan, it aims to re-create the socio-cultural dynamics of three decades and their impact on the black community.

It juxtaposes archival documents relating to popular and political culture (posters relating to popular entertainment, book fair flyers, LP sleeves and press clippings) with the works of art. Digital specialists have brought the installation to life by creating an interactive exhibition within it, which features touch screens, headphones, projected images and music.This enables our audience to have an immersive experience of the bookshop surrounded by real as well as virtual books, film screenings and performances.

What elements of the project particularly stand out?

The participation of Eric Huntley in all the key project activities is inspiring and brings an authenticity to the project. There was also active involvement of artists who are icons of the period under consideration such as Errol Lloyd, Sonia Boyce, Eddie Chambers, Chila Kumari-Burnham, Colin Prescod, Margaret Busby and many others.What really stands out is the extensive programme of exhibition-related activities with the integration of heritage objects from the historical archive of Jessica and Eric Huntley and period artworks. 

This includes bringing to life Walter Rodney’s bookshop installation with book launches, talks and poetry performances. In addition, the Black Artists Forum provides rare opportunity for artists, academics and cultural commentators from across the UK to engage in an open discussion.
What do you hope the exhibition will achieve?

We hope the exhibition will serve to dispel the notion that there is one main story that represents the truth regarding the development and status of art created by black artists in Britain. We want the exhibition to show the exciting achievement of black art created outside, and without the validation of mainstream society. This illustrates how art has played a significant role in the growth of self-worth and self-confidence in the black community.

What was the most challenging aspect of the project?

As a small charity of volunteers, financial resources to employ staff to work on key aspects of the project have been the most challenging. Our partnership with LMA and the Guildhall Art Gallery provided much needed support in delivering the project. We have recruited excellent volunteers and trustees, but at critical points during the project it has been difficult without paid employees.

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