The Place is Here
The starting-point for The Place is Here is the 1980s: a pivotal decade for British culture and politics. Spanning painting, sculpture, photography, film and archives, the exhibition brings together works by 25 artists and collectives across two venues: the South London Gallery and Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. The questions it raises about identity, representation and the purpose of culture remain vital today.
The exhibition traces a number of conversations that took place between black artists, writers and thinkers as revealed through a broad range of creative practice. 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. Together, they show how a new generation of practitioners were positioning themselves in relation to different discourses and politics – amongst them, Civil Rights-era “Black art” in the US; Pan-Africanism; Margaret Thatcher's anti-immigration policies and the resulting uprisings across the country; apartheid; black feminism; and the burgeoning field of cultural studies. Significantly, artists were addressing these issues by reworking and subverting a range of art-historical references and aesthetic strategies, from William Morris to Pop Art, documentary practices and the introduction of Third Cinema to the UK. As Lubaina Himid – one of the artists in the exhibition and from whose words the title is borrowed – wrote in 1985, “We are claiming what is ours and making ourselves visible”.
At the South London Gallery, where a number of the artists exhibited in the 1980s and 90s, the focus is on how artists drew on myriad forms of representation and storytelling to interrogate race, gender and sexual politics. Different forms of self-portraiture and representations of the body can be seen throughout the show, a recurring device used by artists as a means to explore intersecting questions of identity, belonging and desire. The 1980s saw the emergence of important discussions relating to black feminist and queer positions. Striking representation of the body in works by Claudette Johnson and Isaac Julien for example, as well as documentation relating to significant exhibitions, are included here. Finally, the context of London as a site for political and cultural action emerges across the galleries, whether through documentation of Mona Hatoum’s performance Roadworks in the streets of Brixton following the 1985 uprisings, or Black Audio Film Collective’s video essay Twilight City which explores the effects on London of Thatcher’s urban regeneration programme. (Source: South London Gallery)