BA Art History and History / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
We Will Be: Black British Art in the 1980s

Course unit fact file
Unit code AHCP30021
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course considers Black British art in the 1980s. Structured chronologically and thematically, we will examine how a generation of artists including Rasheed Araeen, Sutapa Biswas, Sonia Boyce, Chila Kumari Burman, Eddie Chambers,

Sunil Gupta, Lubaina Himid, Keith Piper, Donald Rodney, Marlene Smith, and Maud Sulter worked to create a language of self-representation and resistance against a backdrop of social unrest and political exclusions. We will examine how art was used to articulate the lived experiences of artists of colour, and addressed racism, sexism, and homophobia amongst other themes and issues. Central to this course will be an understanding of the strategic alliances made amongst artists of colour, alongside the complex and nuanced disagreements over the definition of ‘Black Art’ and the notion of ‘political Blackness’. Black British art encompassed a range of media and techniques including painting, sculpture, installation, photography, film, and performance; We will consider artworks alongside significant texts by cultural theorists and art historians, Stuart Hall, Paul Gilroy, Kobena Mercer, as well as those written by the artists themselves. We will ask where, and under what circumstances, did these artists exhibit their work, and how was it received and reviewed? What types of institutional support was available to Black artists during this period? We will assess how and why these artists have come to hold a central yet complex position within the histories of British art at the end of the Twentieth century. We will also evaluate how this 1980s decade has been historicised through a detailed analysis of recent exhibitions such as The More Things Change… at Wolverhampton Art Gallery, 2023 and Women in Revolt, Tate Britain 2023-4.


The unit aims to:

  • Introduce students to a wide variety of artists of African, Caribbean, and Asian heritage active in Britain during the 1980s and early 1990s.
  • Situate artworks and exhibitions in the socio-political contexts which they were made. 
  • Introduce the institutional structures that artists were working within and against.
  • Undertake close examination of how artworks were exhibited – where, under what circumstances, and how they were interpreted and received.
  • Facilitate a nuanced and critical understanding of the issues of representation for Black artists, within narratives of art history, exhibition studies, and British culture and society more broadly.
  • Consider the impact and legacy of exhibitions staged during the 1980s on recent and contemporary curatorial practices; asses the how the 1980s has been historicised today.


1. Introduction 

2. Rasheed Araeen: Pathways to the 1980s 

3. The Blk Art Group: History, Memory, Politics and Assessment Workshop 1 

4. Black Feminisms: Lubaina Himid and exhibitions of Black women artists 

5. Representing South Asian Women 

6. Gay and Lesbian film and photography 

7. What is Black Art? Who is a Black Artist? Debates and Disagreements.

8. The Other Story: Rasheed Araeen’s curatorial vision, exhibition reception and legacies 

9. Into the 1990s: The Rise of Multiculturalism 

10. Curating Black British Art today 

11. Course Review and Assessment Workshop 2

Teaching and learning methods

In this seminar-based course unit students are required to prepare for collective discussion of set readings, questions and artworks. All teaching materials and activities will be available in advance on Blackboard 

  • Face to face seminars to include: tutor introductory lecture; student group work; informal, pre-prepared presentations; group discussions
  • Directed reading; texts will be available via Blackboard
  • Images and seminar powerpoints will be available via Blackboard
  • Recorded artists talks and presentations; available on-line
  • Q&A materials
  • Gallery Visit (TBC)
  • Individual tutorials, during allocated office hour, or by pre-arranged appointment

Knowledge and understanding

  • Broad knowledge and understanding of works by a wide range of artists between the mid-1970s and mid-1990s and relate them to on-going anti-racist and anti-colonial discourses
  • Recognise and discuss the diversity and heterogeneous nature of ‘Black Art’
  • Exhibit knowledge and understanding of significant contextual factors –racial, cultural, political, and institutional – that influenced the creation of artworks, their exhibition, reception and historicisation

Intellectual skills

  • Have the ability to interpret works of art across media with reference to racial politics during the 1980s
  • Read and critically analyse primary and secondary sources related to the circumstances of artistic creation and knowledge production
  • Write about works of art in a variety of media using a range of theoretical perspectives

Practical skills

  • Undertake supervised research to meet assessment requirements
  • Analyse and critically assess different types of writing by and about Black art and artists
  • Assess ideas about, and interpretations of, individual artworks

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Work with archival ephemera, texts and materials
  • Present coherent arguments in written work
  • Develop and complete assessments to specified deadlines

Assessment methods

Assessment taskFormative or SummativeLengthWeighting within unit (if relevant)
Plan for EssayFormative500 words0%

Feedback methods

Formative AssessmentWritten feedback on plan and face-to-face tutorial during consultation hour or by making an appointment
Summative AssessmentWritten and oral feedback during office hour

Recommended reading

Nick Aikens and Elizabeth Robles (eds.), The Place is Here: The Work of Black Artists in 1980s Britain, Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2019.

Rasheed Araeen, The Other Story: Afro- Asian Artists in Post- War Britain, London: The South Bank Centre, 1989.

David A. Bailey, Ian Baucom and Sonia Boyce (eds.), Shades of Black: Assembling Black Arts in 1980s Britain, London: INIVA, 2005.

David A. Bailey and Allison Thompson, Liberation Begins in the Imagination: Writings on British Caribbean Art, London: Tate Publishing, 2021.

Celeste-Marie Bernier, Stick to the Skin: African American and Black British Art, 1965–2015, Oakland, CA University of California Press, 2019.

Sonia Boyce and Dorothy Price (eds.), ‘Rethinking British Art: Black Artists and Modernism’, Art History 44:3 (June 2021), Special Issue.

Eddie Chambers, Black Artists in British Art: A History since the 1950s, London: IB Tauris, 2014.

Eddie Chambers and Maryam Ohadi-Hamadani (eds.), ‘Black British Art Histories’, Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art, 45 (November 2019), Special Issue.

Alice Correia (ed.), What is Black Art?: Writings on Writings on African, Asian and Caribbean Art in Britain, 1981-1989, London: Penguin, 2022; selected texts

Gen Doy, Black Visual Culture: Modernity and Postmodernity, London: IB Tauris, 2000. 

Amal Ghosh and Juginder Lamba (eds.), Beyond Frontiers: Contemporary British Art by Artists of South Asian Descent, London: Saffron Press, 2001.

Richard Hylton, The Nature of the Beast: Cultural Diversity and the Visual Arts Sector: A study of policies, initiatives and attitudes 1976-2006, Bath: ICIA, 2007

Sophie Orlando, British Black Art: Debates on the Western Art History, Paris: Éditions Dis Voir, 2016.

Kwesi Owusu (ed.), Storms of the Heart: An Anthology of Black Arts and Culture, London: Camden Press, 1988.

Rianna Jade Parker, A Brief History of Black British Art, London: Tate Publishing, 2021. 

Maud Sulter (ed.), Passion: Discourses on Blackwomen’s Creativity, Hebden Bridge: Urban Fox Publishing, 1990.

Gilane Tawadros, ‘Beyond the Boundary: The Work of Three Black Women Artists in Britain’, Third Text, 3:8 (1989), pp. 121–5

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Alice Correia Unit coordinator

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