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Rarely seen artworks by the Blk Art Group go on show at Sheffield's Graves Gallery
Eddie Chambers, How Much Longer (1984). © Eddie Chambers.

SHEFFIELD.- From Saturday 27 August, Sheffield’s Graves Gallery will debut the UK ’s first exhibition exploring the work of the influential art collective, the Blk Art Group. Curated by Museums Sheffield, the exhibition will bring together rarely-seen works from the city’s own collections and loans from the artists to showcase the group’s considerable contribution to raising awareness of black British art.

In the early 1980s, the British National Party was on the rise, the Brixton riots were shaking London and South Africa was in the grip of apartheid. Against a backdrop of injustice and unrest, the Blk Art Group emerged as a strong creative force in Britain. Heavily influenced by the Black Power Movement in the US , the artists in the group each made powerful responses to the crises in race relations both at home and overseas.

Using a wide range of materials, from straw and calico to newspapers and x-rays, the Blk Art Group made radical, innovative work which expressed the black experience. The group was only active for a short period of time, but were a critical catalyst in raising the profile of the vibrant black art scene in the UK ; their legacy has subsequently influenced a generation of British artists, including Chris Ofili and Steve McQueen.

Blk Art Group will include a series of works that were acquired for Sheffield during the 1980s, but have been seldom displayed due to the delicate nature of the materials they were made from. Thanks to support form Arts Council England, these works have now undergone careful conservation. The exhibition will see these newly restored works go on show together for the first time in over 20 years alongside a series of personal loans from the Blk Art Group artists.

Blk Art Group will feature work by Eddie Chambers, Claudette Johnson, Keith Piper, Donald Rodney and Marlene Smith. The exhibition will also explore the role that regional galleries, including those in Sheffield , played in supporting and promoting black British art at a time when many public art institutions were reluctant to engage with the work of black artists.

Louisa Briggs, Curator of Visual Art at Museums Sheffield said: ‘It’s fantastic that Museums Sheffield have had this opportunity to recognise the remarkable, influential work of the Blk Art Group. We’re delighted that the exhibition has allowed us to restore some of the real highlights from the city’s collection and share them with our visitors once again.’

Visitors to the exhibition will see Eddie Chambers’ How Much Longer (1984), Keith Piper’s Black Assassin Saints (1984) and Donald Rodney’s Britannia Hospital series (1988) from Sheffield ’s collection shown together for the first time in over 20 years. Blk Art Group will also include Rodney’s installation The House That Jack Built (1987), Claudette Johnson’s And I Have My Own Business (1982) and Untitled (1983).and Marlene Smith’s Art History (1987) and Sugar Baby All the Time (1987).

Blk Art Group opens at the Graves Gallery on Saturday 27 August and continues until 24 March 2012. Entry to the exhibition is FREE.

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