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How do artists of African and Asian descent in Britain feature in the story of twentieth-century art?

This one-day symposium will unearth the stories behind exhibitions that have put the practices of African and Asian descent artists on Britain’s cultural map. Lucy Steeds (Afterall Journal), artists Sonia Boyce and Keith Piper, and international curator Paul Goodwin are amongst the speakers discussing ground-breaking exhibitions such as The Other Story, The Image Employed, and Trophies of Empire, bringing to light how they came about, what their impact was and how the artworks in them have peppered and punctuated major developments in twentieth-century art.

Since the 1980s there have been a several exhibitions that have taken important steps in illuminating the relationship between black British artistic practices and the well-known narratives in art’s variedhistories. The Other Story is one of the best-known of these key exhibitions, breaking ground as the first retrospective exhibition of modernist works by British artists of African, Asian and Caribbean descent, and moreover as the first to attempt to initiate a broader and more cosmopolitan perception of British modernist art. Although The Other Story is often referenced in the historicisation of black British art, particularly in relation to its reception by black artists, scholars and in the press, its position in global discourses of art is often overshadowed by a perception of the exhibition as a parochial event in art history.[1] Such an understanding of The Other Story may have resulted from what Jean Fisher identified in her 1997 essay ‘The Work Between us’ as our inability to assess ‘the truth of an event’ as a consequence of ‘prefabricated interpretations of reality and opinions circulated by media channels’.[2]If the truth of an event – or the significance and impact of an exhibition – is to be brought to light, we must first do the vital work of revisiting exhibitions as objects of study, and in a much deeper and more nuanced way.

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