Art, Activism and Social Justice

It is perhaps a sign of the current climate that over the past few years, I have been asked to work on a number of different projects around the broad themes of art, activism and social justice. At first I resisted, not really believing the the art world, and the world of political activism was neat fit. I was especially reluctant to get involved with the Journey to Justice, and its celebration of Dr Martin Luther King. Wasn't he just a wishy washy dreamer?

But, why did Dr. King dream for so long? Surely, he could have led a simpler life and followed his fathers path and been a regular Baptist preacher, or a scholar and spent his life writing books about justice instead of marching and facing the battering rams in the struggle for justice. Dr. King was reluctantly sweep into the civil rights movement after he led the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott and helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957. These were not glamorous times for political campaigning; they were brutal, poor, oppressive times.  During his campaigning life he was abused, his home bombed and arrested and jailed 29 times.

At the time of his his 13th arrest he wrote a letter to his wife and supporters who were pleading for him to alter his political strategy by arguing   … “we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny – I can never be what I ought to be until you are allowed to be what you ought to be …. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Over the past few years we have seen the racist murder of numerous elderly Muslim men, a MP, the bombing of mosques in the Midlands, the continuing growth of the far right, revelations about police surveillance of innocent campaigners in this country, austerity cuts ripping apart poor communities, young men killed not only by racists but people from their own communities. We need to think about how all of us, from broad spectrum of people who make up the different local communities can grow and prosper together. There are plenty of lessons from the past, and I have used various lessons from art practices to bring these to a wider community. Here are some examples from recent work .



Coming of Age : 1976 and the birth of anti racist movements

Everyone who grew up in the 1970’s will remember the long hot summer of 1976, however for many young people the summer was a ‘coming of age’, a moment when British youth, both black and white, challenged the engrained racism of the 1970’s and began to forge a new vision for Britain.  In the period from 1976 to 1977 Britain’s Black and Asian youth ‘Came of Age’. This project tells the story of the series of events which occurred during 1976 including Malawi refugee crisis in January, the birth of Southall Youth Movement in June, the Notting Hill riots in August, the start of the Grunwick Strike in August, the birth of Rock against Racism in November, and the enactment of the Race Relations Act in December.

Coming of Age pays homage to the forefathers of the anti-racist struggle before 1976, and celebrates the young people from London who changed Britain over the summer of 1976 by challenging the everyday racism of the time. These young people came from different ethnic backgrounds and used youth movements, music and culture to change Britain in a way that was irreversible, and eventually led to the multi-cultural London we know today.  The project outputs will include a book, learning material and exhibition. 


Journey to Justice 

Journey to Justice is a new exhibition at the National Justice Museum, Nottingham, exploring human rights movements and celebrating those people who have stood up to make a change. As well as stories from the US civil rights movement, the exhibition features a number of local and regional stories. These include the story of a Nottingham lace manufacturer who fought for the abolition of slavery and pioneered advances in workers’ rights, plus Nottingham’s involvement in gay rights activism in the 1960’s.

The exhibition will highlighted campaigns to kick out discrimination in sport and will highlight issues of inequality that still exist today. It will feature the story of Viv Anderson who was the first black footballer to represent England in a full senior match and was also an integral part of Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest team that went on to win two European Cups.

For the exhibition we produce two timelines covering the period from 1800-2016, and through local stories we explored the contribution of local Nottingham people to the struggle for gender, LBGT and race equality, 



The Place is Here : Nottingham Contemporary

The starting-point for this exhibition is a pivotal decade for British culture and politics: the 1980s. Spanning painting, sculpture, photography, film and archives, The Place Is Here brings together a wide range of works by more than 30 artists and collectives. The questions they ask – about identity, representation and what culture is for – remain vital today.This exhibition traced some of the urgent conversations that were taking place between black artists, writers and thinkers during the 80s. Against a backdrop of civil unrest and divisive national politics, they were exploring their relationship to Britain’s colonial past as well as to art history. Many artists were looking to the Civil Rights movement in America, Black feminism, Pan-Africanism, the struggle over apartheid, and the emergent fields of postcolonial and cultural studies.

To accompany the exhibition we produced two timelines covering the period from 1900 through to 1976, charting the history of Black and Asian anti racist activism in the UK, and some of the impact this history had upon the art produced by Black and Asian artists living in Britain.