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Students call for Togetherness in celebration of the Black Arts Movement

Students call for Togetherness in celebration of the Black Arts Movement

Students studying at the University of Wolverhampton School of Art have come together to shine the spotlight on works from artists and designers of colour – inspired by the 40th Anniversary of the Black Art Convention which was held at the School of Art in 1982. 

The six students, studying for degrees in Photography, Illustration, Fine Art and Product Design, have taken inspiration from the creative and innovative ways of the Blk Art Group and British Black Arts Movement artists who claimed visibility and space within the art world. 

The BLK Art Group was formed in Wolverhampton in 1979. The group was inspired by America’s Black Arts Movement (BAM) part of the larger Black Power Movement.  The BLK Art Group’s first national convention was held at the University of Wolverhampton’s School of Art in 1982.   

As well as recently launching an exhibition of work – Togetherness - which is on display in the School of Art, the group of students has also launched a nationwide invitation to fellow artists and designers of colour to contribute to a student-led gathering which will take place on 29 April 2023 at the School of Art. 

The group of students have been working with University lecturers, Sylvia Theuri, Jason Fernandes, Laura Onions and Sama Norman, to plan a conference that will coincide with the opening of an exhibition at Wolverhampton Art Gallery curated by the Blk Art Research Group. The conference will be a collective conversation about art and design, culture, society and how this connects with what it means to be a student of colour. 

The Togetherness group is asking people to contribute something creative to be showcased at the conference including ideas, performances, songs, poetry and any related artwork. 

Anyone interested in contributing should contact or message the group’s Instagram account @wlvtogetherness. 

The exhibition and an accompanying schools’ programme is being funded by Freelands Foundation which works to broaden access to art education and the visual arts across the UK. 

The students involved in the project are Alina Ahmad, studying Photography, Khadija Kouser, studying Product Design, Chandni Raithatha, studying Photography, Simran Samra, an Illustration graduate who is now studying for a Master’s course in Visual Communication, Aparnan Shanmugam, a Product Design graduate also studying for a Master’s course in Visual Communication and Shannon Ward, studying Fine Art. 

Simran, 22 from Wolverhampton, said: “Someone saw my work at the recent Degree Show and this piece, in particular, which is about tying the turban was powerful for the exhibition. I didn’t really know much about the Black Arts Movement but as I attended more meetings I saw its importance to students of colour, especially in the Asian community where arts isn’t really encouraged as a career.   My family is very supportive and I aim to get a job in the creative industries as a graphic designer or illustrator and I will continue to practise as an artist.” 

Shannon, 19 from Telford, said: “I didn’t have much knowledge about the Black Arts Movement but my involvement in this project is helping me gain knowledge and background to help me discover and celebrate the history in the here and now. I want to be a professional artist and, for me, it’s important to have representation, have a voice and use my art to represent young people of colour.” 

Alina, 20 from Wolverhampton, said: “I was basically the only person of colour in my year group and it really resonated with me. It’s great to be able to do this with other students and it will hopefully inspire other generations in the future.  The Black Arts Movement is incredible as it’s such a big part of history.  My family weren’t expecting me to study Photography, but it was the one thing I wanted to do, and luckily they are very supportive.” 

Maggie Ayliffe, Head of the School of Art, said: “It’s been 40 years since the first convention took place here at the School of Art and it was a group of undergraduates who had identified the need to talk about their work in a different context and then to start this national event. They really galvanised the movement which was incredible.  

“The things they represented are still quite relevant, quite raw and quite exciting. It’s very much a part of our history and now we have another group of undergraduate students who are picking up on those issues – it's student-led and it’s important for the city. The art gallery collects work by the original group and a lot of those artists have become internationally recognised. 

“This project is about giving voice to a whole range of people and having their lives represented in a whole range of things, popular culture, TV and art – you need to see yourselves in order to feel that you belong to that culture. Art education should be open and welcoming to people from all different backgrounds.” 

The Blk Art Group Research Project was set up by former ‘Blk Art Group’ members Claudette Johnson, Marlene Smith and Keith Piper in 2011. Taking a renewed examination of the archives and historical legacies of ‘The Blk Art Group’ (1979-1984) as its starting point, the project aims to promote debate, enquiry, scholarship and understanding of what has become known as the British 'Black Art Movement’ of the 1980s.  

The project aims to bring together a body of work contextualising, documenting and critiquing this movement and the social, cultural and political epoch which gave rise to it. During 2012, two major projects were staged by this research group; a symposium which coincided with a retrospective exhibition entitled 'The Blk Art Group' held at the Graves Gallery Sheffield, and an international conference entitled 'Reframing the Moment' held at the University of Wolverhampton. 

Artists from around the world gathered recently in London to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the movement. Read more about the artists in an article published by The Guardian recently. 

Anyone looking to study at the University of Wolverhampton should register for one of our forthcoming Open Days.  Specific information about creative courses on offer in the School of Art and the Screen School can be found on the website.


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