As curator for the LGBT element to Brixton Calling! – an Arts Council for England and Heritage Lottery Funded project to draw attention to Brixton Art Gallery, I helped to assemble archival material deposited at Tate Britain and Lambeth Archives.
Brixton Artists Collective were based at a gallery in Station Road and held a number of important seed exhibitions relating to concepts that would later become prominent in the contemporary art scene. These included curated shows of artists outside the dominant white western heritage groupings (artists of African, Caribbean, Latin American and Palestinian origin for instance), women artists and lesbian and gay artists. It also introduced mediums that were little recognised but now have become a common place in the realm of ‘fine’ art. Textiles, video, installation, performance and ceramics were fully accepted into the program.
The collective operated on a tiny budget having initially squatted three railway arches that had been a carpet warehouse outlet: the space was substantial. Well over 1000 artists were shown there including a number who went on to become Turner Prize nominees. It provided most with their first opportunity to show work. The gallery materials were ephemeral in nature and in part the project sort to reconstitute a record, leaving an account at both the Tate and Lambeth Archives. It also sort to engage parallel groups to those mentioned above in current day activities modelled on the collectives methodologies. Many of the Collectives posters and catalogues utilised manual cut & paste and photocopying foreshadowing todays Zine culture so, for instance Tate Collective worked with Barbara Asante to produced Bam, Bam! a fanzine exploring Black Art in the 80s. The first fifty exhibition posters, inspired by former Collective member Andrew Hurman’s web site, were depicted on the exhibition publication and these and catalogues formed part of the gift to Tate.
As well as collated and researching archival material relating to the Lesbian and gay artists group based at the gallery I wrote and edited (with Françoise Dupré) the exhibition publication. The booklet collated archival material on the main groups at the gallery and held an oral archive in the form of CD and a Timeline for the period concerned (1983-1993).
The Model Library & Fairy Tales Manifesto
Each curator was also asked to create an installation on their area of special interest. Mine took the form of ‘The Model Library’. This was a miniature exploded view model of the gallery and a library of books relating to lesbian and gay artists. The interior walls and floor of the model were lined with images of these and other books again detailing lesbian and gay art, many of them specifically relating to artists who showed there (people like Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Mandy MacCartin, Sunil Gupta and Hamid Butt). An accompanying wall text, ‘The Fairy Tales Manifesto’ explained that whilst books were prevalent LGBTQ specific exhibitions and commentaries in galleries were still considered a side issue at best and still largely absent from view. They are still, 35 years on, mostly a feature of Pride related events and usually the result of LGBT curators efforts, largely unsupported by galleries. The text and ‘Model Library’ flat packed and is now in the collection of Tate Archive and in working with them we ensured that LGBTQ search terms were blatant not latent.