This conversation with cultural theorist and professor Stuart Hall was pre-recorded with David A. Bailey and presented as the keynote address for the Black Diaspora Visual Art symposium held in Barbados on the 13 & 14 February 2009.
As part of the planned events marking the Abolition of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, the National Art Gallery Committee in Barbados invited Bailey MBE to organise a series of symposiums and exhibitions that explore visual art in the Black Diaspora. A number of leading scholars, curators and artists who have made key contributions in this area were invited to Barbados to participate in a dialogue with the local/regional Caribbean community. It was envisioned that this event would provide an opportunity for the Barbados art community and wider local audience to participate in the discussions and present contemporary Barbadian art and artists to a panel of distinguished experts in related fields.
This conversation with Stuart Hall was a feature presentation during the 2nd Symposium, which took as its starting point the question Hall poses in his essay called Modernity and its Others: Three “Moments” in the Post–War History of the Black Diaspora Arts. The essay offers an analysis of three ‘moments’ in the post-war black visual arts in the UK. The main contrast identified is between the ‘problem space’ of the artists–the last ‘colonials’–who came to London after World War II to join the modern avant-garde and who were anti-colonial, cosmopolitan and modernist in outlook, and that of the second generation–the first ‘post-colonials’–who were born in Britain, pioneered the Black Art Movement and the creative explosion of the 1980s, and who were anti-racist, culturally relativist and identity-driven. In the work of the former, abstraction predominated; the work of the latter was politically polemical and collage-based, subsequently embracing the figural and the more subjective strategy of ‘putting the self in the frame’. This generational shift is mapped here in relation to wider socio-political and cultural developments, including the growth of indigenous racism, the new social movements, especially anti-racist, feminist and identity politics, and the theoretical ‘revolutions’ associated with them. The contemporary moment – less politicised, and artistically neo-conceptual, multi-media and installation-based– is discussed more briefly.
The symposium set out to explore some of these themes in Hall’s paper with particular reference to their applicability to the contemporary Caribbean context and the relationship of the contemporary moment to earlier developments.
Filmed by: Gary Stewart and Trevor Mathison
The Black Diaspora Visual Art programme was presented by the Barbados National Art Gallery Committee in collaboration with International Curators Forum and Aica Southern Caribbean with funding from Arts Council England.
David A Bailey: Hi Stu. Just to give you some background as to why we are here. Three things, really. Firstly the context of me working as an artist, as a photographer, has always been working in the context of a very particular so called museum gallery and white cube space and intervening in that and becoming visible in that. Secondly, working within the context of a curator has also again been working in that white cube space and intervening within that as well. Also, the writing and collaborations we’ve done together have been part of that. I do feel now there is a different stage where I’m working at a different landscape and the landscape isn’t as much about the cube space but about geography and the Caribbean.
The Caribbean has become a really important space for me to think about how the work we produced in the 80’s and 90’s is intervening within that space. This is why we’re here, to begin that discussion. Reading your piece about modernity and the little moments really made me reflect on that. One of the questions where I wanted to begin is for you to reflect and talk through the question of why think about that problematic space in terms of modernity, but also I’m really intrigued that you use the question of genealogy to think about the notion of moments rather than to think about it as different areas of contestations. You use the question of genealogy and to really talk about those moments in relation to modernity.
Stuart Hall: I framed it through modernity I guess mainly because there are three moments in the Black arts and the diaspora. It’s not mainly about Caribbean art at all. If you are thinking about the diaspora, you are obviously thinking about the relationship between people with non-Western European backgrounds or some cultural ancestry that’s different from that and their relation to western modernity, which of course isn’t the only versions of modernity there are. There are many modernities but this is the dominant one. The western version of modernity is what most people think the word modern refers to. I’m thinking about what is the relationship of people who come from somewhere else who have different images in their head and have very different preoccupations and histories in their background. How do they enter the space of what has been described as modernity?
What are moments? Moments are not very precise. It’s not a precise way of periodizing the thing. I think of a moment as some period when a lot of different currents come together. Currents that usually move at different rhythms and so on. They somehow come together and condense together and they form a problem space, a space of activity, a configuration. People do different work within that configuration and later that configuration disintegrates or breaks up or fragments and you come to another condensation of that kind. I thought I could detect the two significant moments in diaspora arts in Britain, and the difference between them is what really struck me, which I will go on to talk about.
Well, the first moment is the moment just before or just after the Second World War, as it were from the 40s through to the 60s and it’s the period when people are preparing for decolonisation. The independence movements and anti-colonial movements are very strong. Most societies either peacefully or as a result of wars and national liberation are going to free themselves from the colonial metropolis. In that moment lots of Caribbean intellectuals and artists suddenly decide that they need to come to England of their own volition. Of course their ancestors didn’t go to the Caribbean of their own volition. They were hauled there in the middle passage. But now they could choose to go. They want to go to look at this thing in the face and say, “What is this thing that colonised us and governed us and educated us and taught us what it is to be modern. What is it really like? Now that I’m going to be liberated from its tutelage can I look it honestly in the face and say that’s good, that’s interesting, that’s rubbish. Could I even intervene in it and conquer it? Could I be modern?”
So the group of people come from the colonial world, not just from the Caribbean. Frank Bowling, Donald Rodney, Aubrey Williams come of course but lots of people come from elsewhere. They come from the Indian sub continent, the Far East, Africa. Uzo Egonu comes from Africa. People like [Avinash[ Chandra and [Anwar Jalal] Shemza from the Indian subcontinent, FN Souza. People from the Far East like David Medalla and Li Yuan-chia. It’s a congregation of colonials about to become post colonial in the metropolis. What’s interesting about that, apart from the fact that that’s when I came too so I have a particular feeling of this moment, but it’s also the moment when all the writers came: [George] Lamming, [Samuel] Selvon, VS Naipal , [Edgar] Mettleholzer, [John] Hearn, on and on and on. They come to England in this period and in The Pleasures of Exile, Lamming has a note which said he comes on the boat with Selvon. He said to Selvon I never knew you were coming. He remarks that at that time nobody got in touch with anyone else. Mettleholzer in the same way Zeitgest? I don’t know what it is, but they decide to come to look at this old colonial power and they decide to come as though they are already liberated people. They don’t engage as subordinates anymore. Think of Lamming after all. Lamming is an accomplished reader of English literature. He’s master of the English language. One of his main writings in the early stages is a re-reading of The Tempest. He didn’t feel outside this traditional at all. He thinks he can be as good and write as well as them. I think the painters thought so too.
Who are these people? Who are they really? Well, they are what I would call moderns in the sense I have been trying to describe. They don’t feel themselves locked into ancient cultures, they don’t feel themselves subordinate. They feel like modern people. Indeed, the anticolonial movement they see as helping to make them modern because it’s going to get rid of those old feudal and colonial structures they have been embedded in. They are going to make a new life, new world, and new art, not as savages or as natives; they aren’t coming down from the trees, but as modern people. They will occupy modern sensibility. What is this sensibility? What does it consist of? What is particular about it? One of the things that is particular about it is that its main preoccupation, if you say what are they concerned about? What are they struggling with? What are they opposing? Race is involved in all that. The fact that the Negro movement all over the world from the Harlem Renaissance, an art movement among black people is going on. They all know they are black or related to blackness but that is not what gets them. What gets them is anti-colonialism. It’s the colonial structures that have imposed ideal forms of art imposed western art, imposed western literature, imposed western manners, imposed or tried to, on the colonial world. That is what is preoccupying them.
As far as their artistic work, of course they use all the media that is currently available but painting has a big privilege over anything else. One of the people I would identify as coming the earliest in that period is Ronald Moody. He comes in the 40s. He comes from Jamaica. He is already a sculptor of the Negro body. He is part of the formation Edna Manley created around Jamaican art for the first time, but he wants to get to Paris and to London. He comes and lives here before and after the war. He’s a wonderful sculptor. Not at all well recognised now though I think he felt perfectly at home for a long time living in Europe. They are among the first to come but then there’s a succession of people after that.
Think of Aubrey Williams. He comes from Guyana and begins as a fairly traditional realistic naturalistic artist. He paints local scenes and he then becomes interested in pre-Colombian art and does some work like that. He comes to England and he suddenly starts being an abstract artist. He takes up abstraction. You could locate some paintings of his that look exactly like the Guyanese interior but they’re beginning to be abstractions, not naturalistic images of it. Before very long he is painting incredible works, using pre-Colombian forms in an extraordinarily abstract way. He’s painting abstractions, which are really cosmologies; they are about the universe rather than about anywhere in particular. He’s doing paintings to Shostakovich’s music. This is a man who thinks modern culture belongs to him. Of course he knows he’s coming from a very particular route into it. He doesn’t see modernism and the modern as an enemy. He doesn’t see it as a plot. I think of Frank Bowling who is also a wonderful abstract painter. He becomes one, influenced by abstract expressionism. When he moves from this setting I’ve been describing to the US, he says, “the black soul, if there is such a thing, is in modernism.”
Let’s now talk about the interval but in-between, one of the things that happened is that a lot of these artists have become part of the modern painting scene, contemporary art scene in London. There comes a moment where they’re not being recognised. Their peers desert them. They aren’t getting shown. A lot of that history has been lost. People talk about the moment of modernism in English art at that time and they don’t speak about these people at all. A whole generation, a whole story is lost. And they’re not getting visibility; they are worried about institutionalism and neglect. And lots of them leave, like Bowling. The period between the first and second moment is a rather difficult one. They’re not settling quite in the way they thought they might. They aren’t being accepted in the same way, etc. In spite of the fact that decolonisation has actually happened in the Caribbean and West Africa, most of the countries have become independent exactly in this period in the 60s.
I want to go to the next moment. The next moment in the late 70s and 80s is a moment of incredible creativity. The amount of new work being made especially in photography and painting is just extraordinary. Every community of black settlement has for a time a front store showing Caribbean or black art. It’s a period of huge creativity and many of the artists that you would now think of as being identified with that moment are still practicing here, like you, for instance and Eddie Chambers, Keith Piper and Sonia Boyce etc.
What is distinctive about them in terms of what I said about the previous group is that they were almost all born here [in Britain] or lived here most of their lives or come very young. Their experience has been in the UK and in the black diaspora in black families, in the black community. Many of them have been to school here. In so far as any of them are art trained they have all been to art colleges in the UK, not elsewhere. But that’s not the real thing that happened to them. What has happened to them is they have realised their depth of displacement from what might be called their home country or the culture of their family, etc. They are miles away. They’ve never been there. They don’t remember it. It doesn’t have any immediacy for them. But everything about them belongs to it; their colour, their custom, the way they cook, the way they dance, the music they play.
They are what CLR James calls inside and outside; black people who have been born into the diaspora who are of it, but have not been made to feel part of it. They have a very particular position; and he adds, they have a unique insight into the society. They are inside and outside, and part of what is outside is race. Not anti-colonialism, they don’t know much about colonialism. They are postcolonial folks. But race has become indigenised in this period. Race has become vibrant. It is not a minority question at all; it is right at the heart of English social life and English politics. Think about the period between the first so called race riots in Notting Hill in 1958, which is when I first got involved in black organising, and the space between there and Enoch Powell’s 1968 speech about the Rivers of Blood will flow as a result of blacks and immigrants coming into Britain to pollute it. That’s a huge period of antiracism, of protest against social disadvantage etc. I don’t want to go into it. People will understand what I mean. It’s a rise of black consciousness very influenced by the civil rights movement, by the idea of black art and black literature and influenced by the antiapartheid struggle. And it is most influenced by being pushed around by the police in the community, by living in the inner cities which are places without possibilities and opportunity, and by living in families who are often unemployed etc. They are in a rage about race and as race surfaces in the society, it focuses the consciousness of this new blood generation.
If you look at the work of some of the early ones like Eddie Chambers, or Keith Piper, Donald Rodney, anti-race politics is, the identification with a black consciousness and the idea of black politics resisting racism is right at the center of their work. When I look at that early work I think they are almost in too much of a hurry or too angry to make art at all. You can actually see the racial feeling exploding across the face of the canvases themselves. They’re scratched, they’re torn, they’re broken up and fragmented. A lot of the things are written across or scrawled across like graffiti on the wall. It’s as if they can’t wait until you to look at it and nicely get the message. They have to tell you what the message is. It’s a sloganising kind of art. It’s very powerful and it is very influenced by the black art coming out of the civil rights movement. It has a sense of itself as a new black art movement. But it’s a black art not concerned with a colonial mentality at all.
This generation, also there is a second part to it but let me talk about this part first, as you know they start to get visibility for their work. They struggle for visibility. The mainstream art intuitions aren’t interested. There are no other ways to come out. In any case identification is with the black community so they aren’t particularly interested in showing in the Tate or somewhere like that. They want to speak this language back to their own community. That’s where they want to show. I used to go from one storefront to another that was showing this work. It opened on Tuesday, fortnight Tuesday it’s closed down. They didn’t have the money to stay. Where has this gone? It’s moved from Brixton to the East End. It’s gone to Shoreditch. You’d have to track them around. I first remember you and your work as one of the few people helping to pioneer the coming into visibility of this work. But there was no permanent site for it.
A lot of what is going on is not only black consciousness, the an emergence of black consciousness out of a political feeling about it , and addressed to the black community, but is also a struggle for visibility to get institutional space to recognise it. It’s the struggle for recognition. That part of it I think we are familiar with as part of a story. I think this moment, the 80s, is divided at its heart because at the center is another preoccupation which you might say is political too because its about the nature of black subjectivity but it isn’t a protest political art in quite the same way. A lot of women – Sonia, [Boyce], Claudette [Johnson] and on and on, but they are much more concerned with how blackness has registered in terms of the formation of subjectivity. What sort of subject are they? They are asking subjective and identity questions. Who are we? Where did we come from? And where on earth do we belong?
Now both of these sides of the second moment of the 80s operate together but I think the second set of preoccupations eventually comes to override the first. This is a sort of division in the body of artists themselves and it is also partly represented in a gender break. Some of the women who belong as much as others to what I call the first part of this moment who go on to do something else, who are made to feel not quite politically, not quite black politics enough. I just want to identify these two different strands to it because one of the things that strikes me about the second moment is how preoccupied it is with black identity, with the self and the black body.
The black body is an object, which they feel has never come into representation. It has been excluded. In eighteenth century painting it’s down in the corner where some slave is kneeling or it’s round the back where some servant is waiting. But nobody has ever thought it could occupy the center of the frame. The struggle is to get into and put yourself into the frame at last. To have your eyes confront the black face, not as seen through white eyes but really as experienced by yourself. To look at it in the face. It’s why a lot of this work is related in one way or another to the black body, because the body after all is what we think of as the container of identity. Of course it isn’t at all. We think the these are the limits of my identity. They coincide with my body. But we know the body is also where a lot of racial discourse interacts, intersects.
Racism is preoccupied with the body and what the body looks like. Stereotypes and caricatures are riveted by displaying the black body in an anthropological way.
It condenses a number of other planes as well as race. It condenses sex because sexuality is part and parcel of how the body is represented and represents itself. I would risk saying the first generation is not concerned with its sexuality at all or with gender. Almost all of them are men as it happens. But for the next generation it is absolutely in the center of the screen. Not only the problem between black men and black women understanding one another and juggling for position. And the really difficult problem which feminism has in that period, whether to identify with black men and the struggle for blackness or identify with women against men in terms of resisting patriarchal power. This is the well-known split that is going on in this work.
The last thing I want to say about it is that it’s a moment that has a very different relationship to modernity and modernism. It has a very different view of it.
It is in some ways closer to it. It knows a lot of modern art. The generation has been to art school and has been taught modern art and modern photography. I should say that photography is one of the things that becomes very central to this movement of the 80’s, as much as painting in some ways.
Of course they know about it, but they don’t want to be part of it. They are suspicious of it. They are dubious of it. They would never make a statement like “the black souls in modernism”. They are the ears of the critique of colonialism and enlightenment. They see that modernism and modernity is something that excludes them. It is deliberately a power play. They are not part of it. It disavows their existence. They don’t think of themselves as moderns in the way Frank Bowling would have thought of himself. They are suspicious, dubious of modernity. They wouldn’t use modernity as a focus of what they are about.
I think this makes a huge difference of consciousness. The consciousness of the anti-colonial is so different from the consciousness of a black oriented artistic movement. In drawing these two moments I was preoccupied not just with the two condensations or configurations that have gone on across the decades, but I was interested in the differences between them. I don’t exaggerate that. Moody knew he was sculpting the black figure. Let’s not get essentialist about it. But nevertheless I don’t think that’s what drives them. The second generation is preoccupied with the fact that colonialism has distorted the countries from which they come. The Caribbean is very poor because of what has happened to it. I’m not saying they don’t think about it, but what’s moving them is much more race than colonialism which is a contrast of emphasis between the two moments and the two generations. You’re wondering what happened to the third moment?
David Bailey: Yes
Stuart Hall: As you know in the paper I don’t talk much about it. You know more about it than I do.
David Bailey: The third moment is much more layered from my perspective. You probably have a different reading from your perspective. For me the third moment is about going back to the second moment but also changes the geopolitics of where they want to talk about that second and third moment. I can think of two examples. One example is, unlike the Other Story with Rasheed Araeen, which is primly focused around canonising that moment in the Hayward Gallery in London, what we find is a writer called Gilane Tawadros who was preoccupied with writing about Sonia Boyce and suddenly wants to write about another generation of artists and wants to show those artists but not in London but in Venice.
She then collaborates with Kobena Mercer who writes a lot about Mapplethorpe, but he writes about Bowling in the space in Venice and that’s where they have the African Pavilion. And she shows Bowling and simultaneously you have people like Isaac Julian who are moving from trajectory of Territories and Looking for Langston to making work about the Caribbean. Suddenly that third moment, the people who are preoccupied with that third moment come back to the second moment but in different ways. The artists themselves begin to curate that moment in their own work. I was just wondering if you think that makes sense at all.
Stuart Hall: Coming again, because you can give examples better, thinking about two things you said: first of all internationalisation, the globalisation of the art world. I remember when the Iniva – the Institute for International Visual Arts first starts thirteen years ago, and the first conference it has is called the New Internationalism? And I remember a lot of people thinking “which international? What is a new international? Hasn’t art always been international?” The answer to that is yes and no. We are talking about a period of massive change in the status of art and in the global distribution and exhibition of art and at the same time into the rise again of the art world into an international market. If you are an ambitious artist now, you are not satisfied with just coming into visibility in the UK. The UK is a tiny corner of the globe. You want to play in a much wider canvas. Those people who began somewhere else, you quote Isaac Julian, Looking for Langston is still embedded in black art and black literature in that early moment in the US. It’s preoccupied by gender, sexuality and by the black body. Isaac Julian’s work now has all those elements in it but that’s not what its about. It’s on a huge new canvas and almost all of the current artists want to be a part of that canvas.
Now that’s globalisation. The second thing you talked about was curating. I don’t quite understand this but it may be that if you can’t get hold of the institutions, the best thing is to get hold of some curatorial spaces within it. This third moment wants to curate. It wants to bring forward the work to illustrate some theme. Or to contrast one kind of work against another and open the borders of art to a more global experience. Curating becomes much more important. I think of you as a curator as well as a photographer. Some painters and photographers were also starting to do shows but I don’t think of what I call the curatorial drive, which is very powerful in the third movement. I feel like saying have you ever thought of making a piece of art instead of curating other people. It’s a nasty thought.
It is so powerful. People want to curate and in some ways I do feel it is slightly sapping the creative impulse. On the other hand it is part of this movement to give visibility now across a global framework to the art which is coming from not just black people but it is now all the excluded cultures and colours of the non-western world that have never displayed before and have never been seen in the centre of the metropolis, never belonged to where modern art is thought to belong: London Paris New York. These people want to struggle to be in that space as well. This is a huge transformation.
I think globalisation is a very tricky word. People use it as if, isn’t it great? There are biennials in every city in the world. Including lots of cities that don’t have anything else as far as art is concerned, but they have a biennial. They are showing of course indigenous work, work produced in those countries as well as showing other work, which says we are not producing native works and forcing you to look at them any longer because all the great artists, all of the contemporary artists of the world are coming here to exhibit. It’s an opening of borders and opening of some of the lines of division that have operated in the art world. That’s true economically too. They have opened the space. The new market in art which is out of sight in terms of how a few artists are rewarded when they get into that global market, well he global market also has its reach right across boundaries.
This is the good side of globalisation but the bad side of globalisation is all the people it leaves out. The effects of globalisation, the benefits have come to the developed world. They have come principally to the US and to western European societies. It’s only later that anybody else really benefited from it. That benefit is huge. It’s benefited those limited number of societies but it has also created huge inequalities within it. The wealth created by globalisation is owned by a tiny percentage of the people. The people who really raided globalisation are the new global super class. One of the things they can afford to buy is a yacht, the other thing they can afford to buy is four houses, and the other thing is art. It’s created a type of class and a different division between the non-western world and the metropolis. It’s a division between the well off and the not well off but it is a deep division still. The last point I’ll make about globalisation is that some people are more global than others just as some are more visible than others. Let’s not fool ourselves that as globalisation arrives, everyone is being shown and everyone can see whatever they like and all the biennales are showing everything. It is not that.
David Bailey: Again in this third moment, and I’ll talk about this by example, several things are going on which one could say are self-reflective but also intertextual. For instance, one could argue that, can one make comparisons in the same way as we talked about Shostakovich and Aubrey Williams, can one make comparisons with generations of artists in the 80’s? For instance I’m thinking of Lubaina Himid. She makes a distinct series of works on Toussaint L’Ouverture. The level of obsession of narrative in that work is no different in comparison to how CLR James narrativised through literature the whole Black Jacobin story however with Lubaina, she does it through this series of narratives and drawings.
The second thing is, Sonia Boyce begins to work in film and film becomes very important but then she starts to make films about the Caribbean, about Barbados. In the same way talking about the hybridity of music within Barbados and how that’s in carnival. To me that’s very much reminiscent of Horace Ove’s work in film in terms reggae and there’s a comparison there. Let’s go back to Aubrey Williams and Shostakovich. Can one compare No Woman No Cry which is the painting that Chris Ofili makes when he wins the Turner Prize and gets canonised in that moment. He goes back to painting and makes the piece No Woman No Cry. Obviously one thinks of it as a moment about Marley but also it’s directed we think towards Stephen Lawrence and the condition around racist institutional practices at that time. There are lots of things going on there and references going on there and somehow people are using the film and using painting and referring back to moments of the 20s and 30s and referring back to earlier practices of other artists but using not so much modern art forms, but rethinking that in a different way.
Stuart Hall: About your first point, I would agree that perhaps the distinctions I’m making are too sharp. You can find that concern with contemporary art forms and playing of contemporary art forms and contemporary music right back to the first moment.
I don’t want to present the second moment as locked into community arts. I agree with that but I sort of think that in the third moment the attitude has shifted. Let us take Steve McQueen. Bear film is still preoccupied with the body but the two more recent work- the installation with the stamps with all the soldiers that have been killed [Queen and Country, 2007]and the film Hunger which is about the Irish troubles and the Irish prison movement, don’t have to have a reference of blackness of any kind to express what they were about. Take Chris Ofili, of course No Woman No Cry. We know where it comes from and what it goes back to etc. Chris Ofili also has a lot of work on black comic figures and cartoon figures but Chris Ofili’s attitude towards that is decidedly more ironic. It is wilfully playful. What it says to me is, “I don’t want to carry the burden of representation any longer. If you like my work of course its because of who I am and where I come from and I’m going to do something in that work to remind you that I’m different from everybody else. I’m going to put an elephant turd in the corner of every painting. Whether you like it or not you’re going to step in difference “. Otherwise the distances are very different. It seems to be quite ironic.
Take somebody like Yinka Shonibare. Yinka remains preoccupied with the question of Africa and the rest of the world, racial questions, the body and so on. I don’t know anybody in the first or second generation that would have made a parody of Fragonard. You know, put Fragonard’s headless figure on a swing in a crinoline. Of course exactly like Chris Ofili, it’s just another marker. The marker are the clothes these people wear and the clothes they wear is really interesting because most of the English viewers see that as traditional African print whereas of course we know it is produced in Holland and sold around the world. It is what is called Dutch wax. Actually, [Yinka] probably buys it in a local market somewhere in the UK. So it’s a kind of joke. It’s not that it has abandoned those questions but it seems to have a particular artistic freedom in how it plays them and how it represents them. If you’re tied down to giving a particular artistic message, some people might say that’s a loss. It’s not as marked a difference as perhaps I sounded like earlier on.
The other thing is what you said about Sonia and I want to remind people that of course the second generation doesn’t stay with the 80s. They are still largely producing now. The moments are not decided by people. They are decided by a set of interests and practices, a set of preoccupations and practices. What Sonia Boyce did then is no where near what Sonia Boyce does now. But the movement back to the Caribbean, that is new. Of course Aubrey kept going back to the Caribbean. He went back to Guyana and went back to Jamaica. Of course they go back, but Sonia Boyce’s return to Barbados signals Moment 3+1, Moment 3 and a half. The freedom of people who have been through the second generation to rediscover and speak to the audience of where they came from through the practices they’ve developed in the diaspora. That is a very striking and interesting development.
Well, one more thing which you mentioned with Sonia and I think of with many other artists is the different media. The multimedia nature of the art being made. In the 80’s the film movement was extremely strong and important. That’s what John Akomfrah and Isaac Julian come out of. It’s the work of Black Audio, which is extremely important work and formerly very sophisticated, aesthetically sophisticated and yet thematically right on the center of the button. Black film has been making its way through this. But what we are talking about is the multimedia explosion in which everybody does everything. Everybody makes a film. You don’t think of completing your work without completing a video. You may start in video but you include something else.
The multimedia explosion means that a much broader set of languages and practices are now available. One of the more important parts of that is the installation. The third moment if anything belongs to the installation. The installation is what I would call a specialisation of the arts. Within that space of representation, the spatial widening of the arts you have someone like Isaac Julian who mainly began as a filmmaker, made a number of films and now works in film, but the films are part of an installation. And I would add and is able to sell those installations to a global art market. That really brings the whole circle right back around in an interesting way. I wouldn’t say it brings it back to where it was, but it recapitulates elements that were in earlier moments and practices and people but if I wanted to draw its configuration, I think you would see it’s a distinct moment.
David Bailey: If we can think about that and explore that a bit more, there are two examples I want to talk about in reference back to the idea of site and installation. For instance, I had a conversation with George Lamming recently. He talked about how he couldn’t describe what the transformation process was but he said it was something like in the 1950s when the West Indies beat the MCC at Lords and he said the art of cricket, and it’s interesting that he used the term ‘the art of cricket ‘, was transformed. Suddenly the West Indies could master the art and also turn it around to a carnivalesque performative arena. He talked about the idea of calypsonians participating in that moment and how that changed within that site which is London.
Then we had a conversation before and we talked about how we can define this third moment and you mentioned that it’s something like how Bob Marley transformed the four square miles around Kingston and made that more global. If you put those two things in perspective now, what we have now is, you can say in London it’s not the cricket that we have; it’s that we have the institutional base of Riverton Place, and places like Third Text have become now those institutions which never appeared 20 years ago. To me that is the relationship I like to draw with the MCC and the cricket thing. We now have our own institutions. Secondly with the Kingston and Marley thing we have now the Okwuis [Enwezor], we have Thelmas [Golden] who are out there in spaces in America, Johannesburg, Germany, Documenta who are now transforming those sites through the biennale circuit in the way that Marley transformed Kingston and music and to think about visual arts in that different way. Is that a really mad comparison? The reason I want to bring in cricket and to bring in Marley is that even though it’s about visual arts, we can’t move away from the literature the music, the cricket; you can’t pull out the popular cultural elements within that.
Stuart Hall: Earlier I mentioned, the fact that the West Indian novel was written in London. As George Lamming quite rightly says of all of us, we came as Jamaicans and Barbadians and Trinidadians but we became West Indian in London. So it’s an incredibly important site. But what you say about cricket is absolutely true. Think of Beyond the Boundary, think of CLR James who knew cricket was a site on which some of the deepest anti-colonial struggles were being fought out without a single reference apart from somewhere like Constantine to politics at all. Just being fought through on that site. I’ll never forget the appearance of the West Indian cricket team at Lords. It was such a transformative moment. Apart from the fact that they’re so wonderful, each of them physically represents different combinations of the Caribbean. Think of Worrell and Walcott and Weekes. Three West Indian types. Classic West Indian. That is a moment of reversal. It’s a wonderful moment of reversal. That has been going on because it’s not focused on any one space. The point that you make is absolutely essential. There it’s carried by cricket , then in the 80’s its carried by music then now its carried by the arts themselves. Art has become a privileged site of these transformations. I wouldn’t want to draw tight distinctions between these.
Think of Marley. Racially, Marley is extremely interesting. He has a white mother and a black father. But he comes right out of a moment of black consciousness. Consciousness is what counts, not race in the skin colour or nature sense. It comes right out of a moment of black consciousness – very important in his own territory. His preoccupations with the way Babylon has re-emerged in Kingston is what a lot of his early music is about. But the process by which that becomes a world subject. It’s almost the first sign of globalisation in the arts as far as the Caribbean is concerned. And certainly in terms of music. He makes this space of Trench Town knowable all over the world. People talk about Trench Town but if you go to Kingston you could hardly get in to Trench Town before you could get out of it. And the fact you wouldn’t be allowed in anyway. It’s a tiny space and one thing about Trench Town is the way the society is politically divided. It sits right next to a number of other communities in Kingston, which are its enemies in many kinds of ways. How did people come to know about Trench Town? The medium of music. Only through music or language or you could see literature doing it or film doing it. Only through theses languages of the arts could someone come to occupy a global space with such absolute centrality.
There are examples of that right throughout our three moments. You’re quite right that it would be wrong to think of visual arts or photography or film alone as carrying them. These are cultural moments in which lots of different kinds of people using different media are involved.
I’ll say one more thing to your reference to documenta. The Documenta moment is a very important one because documenta as you know is the most significant contemporary art fair or gathering in Kassel in Germany. It’s one of the sites of modern contemporary art because it’s the first of its kind which people showed in Europe after the Second World War and the defeat of Germany. It’s become the place to be seen in the contemporary arts. The idea that Okwui Enwezor might become its principle curator and that documenta 11 might be most distinguished for hardly any of the names of global art. They didn’t appear. I mean they appeared in the corners etc. but what you remember is the transformation that occurs by bringing in Africa, Asia, by showing the Caribbean by a multiple sense of what the world is like. It breaks the false boundary that the earlier kinds of globalisation had erected around the arts. It explodes them. This is happening not only in international scenes like that or in the various biennales I’ve talked about, but it is also happening in the UK. Your own Harlem [Renaissance] show or Remix or any of those shows that have occupied the central art institutions of the society can hardly afford to be locked into a ghetto any more. Though of course you don’t appear there every day. You have to struggle hard to get there but you couldn’t say you can’t get there anymore. It’s not an absolute difference but a difference of emphasis, arrangement, situation or position, and that has really been transformed. We’re talking about Steve McQueen, Chris Ofili, both of whom are Turner Prize winners. We’re talking about Yinka and Isaac Julian both of who are Turner Prize nominees. There is no more prestigious and avant-garde spot in the British arts than the Turner Prize so the fact that they appear there and flow into and out of it must not be read by saying that black art has arrived and there’s no struggle left at all. But it is saying there has been a change in the balance of the relationship that’s going on between artists.
One of the things that interests me is your last point about Sonia and about going home. I think you represented this too. In the last few years you have “gone home” in a way which wouldn’t have been true for the 80’s. What’s more is Chris Ofili and Peter Doig who is not a Caribbean at all, not black, white as can be, both chose to live in Trinidad. This is going native with a vengeance because if there is any international artist who has a whole room in the Tate it is Chris Ofili. Peter Doig has exhibited in masses of spaces. The Aubrey Williams show was upstairs in Shoreditch had Peter Doig downstairs and most people were there to see Peter Doig. The fact that they are living in Trinidad is extremely interesting because you can participate in the global art market from Trinidad because of the media explosion. You can talk and have an agent in London, and your principle buyers in New York, and be receiving materials from Africa, and be painting about Africa which Chris Ofili goes on doing, and live wherever you like. That is another kind of globalisation. It may have very profound and different impacts.
Sonia in Barbados is a kind of restoration of a hidden object. She’s always been there of course. Where else could she be, so have you. But to find it now as the ground of your creative work, which I think has happened to both of you is a slightly new phenomenon. And I suspect more people because of the digital information revolution will feel able to go back home wherever that is. Leave their homes here and find new homes there while not opting out of the global art production. I put production because the global art market drives me absolutely insane. The global art marketing I think it’s extremely ancient when art belonged to the patrons and only a Medici could command Michelangelo or Leonardo Da Vinci and we’ve kind of gone back to art which can’t really realise its exchange value without Saatchi or the collectors at that level, or indeed without Russian millionaires of billionaires buying it because people say it’s a good investment. I’m not talking about the art market I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in the people who feel they can be in a global artistic production probably through the variety of different media in a way which some people felt wasn’t possible in the first moment. They felt they had to go somewhere else to see it. And which wouldn’t have been possible in the second moment because their heads were so full of what was happening here.