Where are the South Asian [Women] artists? The Horizon Gallery responds to 'The Other Story'

Correia, A 2020, 'Where are the South Asian [Women] artists? The Horizon Gallery responds to 'The Other Story'' , in: The Fissures of Modernism: Collections, Cultures and Black-British Artists , Duke University Press. (Submitted)

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Abstract

There is no question that The Other Story: Afro-Asian Artists in Post-War Britain curated by Rasheed Araeen and staged at the Hayward Gallery, London, and then touring to Wolverhampton and Manchester, 1989-1990, has had a formative, if belated, impact on the history of art in Britain during the late twentieth century. Although mainstream critical response to the exhibition was lukewarm at best, in the past twenty years, the exhibition, and its attendant catalogue, have become touchstones for scholars and curators researching the work of African, Caribbean and Asian diaspora artists active in Britain. Araeen’s The Other Story provided an unprecedented overview of post-war modernist and post-modernist practice from the 1950s to the 1980s. Seeking to redress the marginalisation, and often outright exclusion, of black and Asian artists from art institutions and the art historical canon in Britain, the exhibition provided, as Lola Young noted, “a rare opportunity for people to get together and talk about institutional hegemony and Black cultural practice and the roles of the Black artist in these circumstances”. However, despite the undeniable importance of The Other Story, one of the most significant criticisms levelled at the exhibition was its noticeable lack of female, and in particular, South Asian female artists. As Rita Keegan concisely observed, “No Asian women were included, and I could make a list of women that are obvious by their absence”. Araeen had acknowledged the exhibition’s gender imbalance in his catalogue essay, stating, “The issue of gender representation remains unresolved here. We have included only four women artists, which is regrettable”, but his argument that the omission of women artists “must be understood in terms of socio-historical factors, rather than through a continually repeated rhetoric of mythical ‘blackwomen artists’ who have been ignored”, arguably falls short. In her rebuttal to the exhibition, Sutapa Biswas named ten young women artists of colour who, she contended, could have easily been included, and she suggested that the omission of female artists was deliberate. Such was the disquiet over the particularly masculine version of modernism presented in The Other Story, between January and April 1990, the artist-run Horizon Gallery, London, staged a series of four exhibitions organized under the collective title, In Focus. Established in 1987, the Horizon Gallery had evolved from a number of South Asian artists’ collectives active during the 1960s and 70s, and its founding principle was to promote the work of artists of South Asian origin, regardless of style, medium, age or gender. The In Focus series showcased the work of sixteen artists, including eight young women artists, and were explicitly intended as a rebuttal to Araeen’s version of modernism and his omission of women artists. The press release for In Focus stated that “The exhibitions are designed to give a representative view of the work of Asian artists living in Britain”, and collectively asserted not only a plurality of artistic practices – multiple modernisms- that fell outside of Araeen’s narrative, but also the importance of a generation of South Asian women artists that included Zarina Bhimji, Chila Kumari Burman, Bhajan Hunjan, and Mumtaj Karimjee. This paper will consider the In Focus exhibitions within the context of a broader diasporic South Asian artistic community in Britain, and suggest that in its critical retort, the Horizon Gallery provided a set of interesting counter-narratives to The Other Story.

Item Type: Book Section
Editors: Boyce, S, Dibosa, D and Lok, SPS
Schools: Schools > School of Arts & Media > Arts, Media and Communication Research Centre
Publisher: Duke University Press
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Depositing User: Dr Alice Correia
Date Deposited: 19 Mar 2020 15:52
Last Modified: 19 Mar 2020 16:00
URI: http://usir.salford.ac.uk/id/eprint/56704

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