Himid, Lubaina (6 of 23). National Life Stories: Artists' Lives
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2006-09-11, 2006-09-12, 2006-10-02, 2006-10-03, 2006-11-06, 2006-11-07, 2007-01-15, 2007-01-16
Interviewee's home, Preston
Himid, Lubaina, 1954- (speaker, female)
Dyke, Anna, (speaker, female)
Part 6: [Session Three: 2 October 2006] [1:41:57] Brief period as theatre designer for Greek family-run theatre company Frangafinou, and for Talawa theatre company run by Yvonne Brewster [YB]. Not feeling comfortable in theatre world. More interested in theatre of real space; waitressing at Tuttons. Moving toward making art and showing others’ art. [Staff interruption] Describes LH’s interior design of Tuttons restaurant and exhibition space; showed friends Peter Farley, RH, Thelan Black, Minna Thornton, MR; selling the work. LH started to make cut-outs - not interested then in museum art. LH always showed own work in the shows she curated. ‘Joseph Clark Posture Master’; theatre subject matter; Black Panther; Stravinsky, Hockney. Sarah Kent’s comment when LH asked her to review the shows. LH realised she had to put work on in venues which would be reviewed; had to get to know the art world system, commercial galleries, eg. The Artists’ Market. [Staff interruption] Thought being artist would allow the freedom to say what she wanted; but making political work was a challenge to the commercial spaces. Art world attitudes at the time to black artists. LH assumed there must be other contemporary black artists, so decided to find them and show their work. Looked first to community arts spaces, Battersea Arts Centre and The Africa Centre. Wanting to make shows came before knowing any other black artists. Lived with MR; worked in bookshop. Decided to return to education; applied to RCA because LP had gone there. Early 1980s political situation; GLC in London. LH always felt the work wasn’t being shown on political rather than aesthetic grounds. Applying to RCA 1982; interviewed by Christopher Frayling. LH planned to spend first year researching artists; second year writing and making exhibitions. Raising money for RCA fees; helped by Paul Gough. Very few other black students. Students didn’t want to engage in identity politics. [35:00] Process of outreaching for black artists; most replies from women. Discovered artists Eddie Chambers [EC], Keith Piper [KP], Donald Rodney [DR], Claudette Johnson [CJ] were working as a group in the Midlands, organising exhibitions, conferences. LH also made connection with Shakka Dedi/Black Art Gallery in Seven Sisters. The artists wanted particular identity, plus make inroads into mainstream culture. LH had connections with Battersea Arts Centre and Africa Centre, via Talawa theatre company and Tuttons. ‘Five Black Women’ at the Africa Centre; immediately followed by ‘Black Woman Time Now’ [BWTN] at Battersea. Opportunity for LH to show own work and belong to something. Describes LH’s lifesize cut-out men. They had been rejected from ‘Women’s Images of Men’ exhibition; LH hadn’t realised they were risqué images. ‘Five Black Women’ reviewed in Time Out. Sonia Boyce [SB], Veronica Ryan [VR], Houria Niati, CJ. The private view; reaction to the work; criticism of the location. BWTN was in Battersea; part of Black Festival organised by YB; 15 artists. [48:27] Audience for the two shows; LH then was more concerned with showing than audience. Building black audiences via showing black artists. As black women artists, interested in exploring own perspective and sparking dialogue. LH’s piece ‘We Will Be’ in BWTN. If LH had developed the cut-outs further, may have been beneficial for art career - getting a dealer etc. But interested in changing world, rather than selling work. Integrity of the artists; wanted to be community leaders via art. Showed in alternative spaces, but not looking for collectors. Interested in politics, rather than trying to change art world. Young people don’t relate to institutions because they don’t see themselves in them. LH not having a fine art training, didn’t know art world systems. RCA tutor Paul Overy, expert in Dutch Modernism; knew about how groups of artists functioned; mentions Tag Grunberg [1:00:35] LH had approached Covent Garden galleries with slides of drawings; didn’t understand the system. Describes her collage-style drawings of transvestites. Learnt importance of documentation at art school. First exhibited in African art show at Artists’ Market, via Peter Farley and Vera Russell. LP met (later partner) filmmaker Lionel Ngkane at private view. LH still not thinking of herself as an artist. [1:11:27] Working routine then and now; in room at home, rather than studio space; not messy artist. ‘Collaborating’ with housemates MR and Sylvia on ‘We Will Be’; drawing pins, wool, playing cards; made it in the kitchen. While at RCA, worked at after school club on Doddington Estate, Lavender Hill; mask-making, crafts; mostly black kids; MR taught them cooking. MR’s home was in more well-off area; seeing difference between rich and poor areas. Battersea Arts Centre, Jude Kelly - wanted to outreach to whole area. Start of LH occupying different spaces at once; wanting to join them up. Working in community project - playing, making stuff out of nothing, keeping kids safe, teaching skills; MR’s role. LH eventually brought these areas together, but didn’t have strategy at the time. [1:25:04] 40,000 word thesis ‘Young Black Artists in Britain Today’. Advice from Dennis Duerden, expert in African art, on constructing the thesis - looking at it visually. LH saw connection between the after school club children and the artists she was finding out about. Wanted to show it was possible to be a black artist. BWTN; the gallery space encouraged the artists to invite their families - their work was being taken seriously. Not seeking approval from art world, but making something on its own. White liberal women came to see it, and helped in the making of the shows, lending money, driving vans etc. LH aimed to make something separate in order to join wider world; analogy to driving - understand the car and then join the traffic. The work made dialogue with art history eg. Picasso, artists who appropriated African art - reclaiming Modernism. EC, DR, KP’s more aggressive work; allowed the women’s work to be more personal. KP’s ‘Another Nigger Died Today’. CJ, Marlene Smith found they could have more equal voice in the women’s groups. The Black Art Group’s tactics. Reflects on strength of the Black Art movement - fighting different agendas at same time. Stuart Hall, Darcus Howe’s views re-black women artists separating from the wider political movement - LH’s response. [1:41:57]