Iniva – or, the Insititute of International Visual Arts – is a London-based radical arts organisation that offers something no other established institution currently does in the UK: a critical and creative hub and programme that works predominantly to support and promote Black and Asian artists. It's a bold mission anchored in iniva's founder, the late cultural theorist Stuart Hall; the library named after him, the archives of which you can explore below, is housed in iniva's own building. The Jamaican-British theorist and political activist changed Black British art and culture forever: now, generations of artists that iniva support are articulating new futures via his writings. Below, Rianna Jade Parker writes on Hall's legacy, while 3 artists from iniva past and present (Rosa-Johan Uddoh, Sunil Gupta, and Jade Montserrat) create new work responding to ideas of "movement" – a theme that the insitution's Artistic Director, Sepake Angiama, has been thinking about a lot during the events of 2020.
RIANNA JADE PARKER ON STUART HALL’S LEGACY
Stuart Hall’s Jamaica differs greatly from my own, as does his Black Britain. And yet I have relied on him heavily to understand and navigate both. What we do share is a visceral connection to the tropical island and the memories “that guarantee I shall be Jamaican all my life, no matter where I am living”. As the public intellectual writes in his 1995 essay “Negotiating Caribbean Identities” for the New Left Review, a title he co-founded: “The Caribbean is the first, the original and the purest diaspora. These days Blacks who have completed the triangular journey back to Britain sometimes speak of the emerging Black British diaspora, but I have to tell them that they and I are twice diasporised.”
As the global response to white supremacy continues, Britain’s ahistorical image of itself is being addressed in anti-racist reading lists that unsurprisingly reference a variety of Hall’s political writings for insight and contemplation of what he might bring to this moment if he were still alive. But less often discussed is Hall’s long-term and sustained engagement with Black and ethnic minority artists in Britain, especially those working in film and photography. Throughout his career and once retired, he devoted a sizable amount of his leisure time to the developing Black arts scene, both as a founding chair of Autograph, an organisation supporting Black British photographic practices, and of the Institute of International Visual Arts (iniva).
At iniva, Hall’s spirit continues to drive forward the mission of an important resource and support network for visual artists and writers. Today, you’ll find the institution housed in Pimlico; nestled within is the Stuart Hall Library, some of the discoveries of which you’ll find on these pages. From its inception, iniva has dedicated itself to supporting young artists and mediating between the state policymakers and funding bodies who (unevenly) distribute public monies for creative practices. Its creation in 1994 pronounced the emergence of first-generation and young migrant Black British artists who came of age in 80s Thatcherite Britain. Now, 26 years on, it’s still a vital institution supporting artists – especially those in the early stages of their career – whose practice speaks to the politics of difference. “We are the stories we tell ourselves – so, as Sylvia Wynter says, we need to come together to tell new stories and rewrite knowledge that means something to us collectively,” says Sepake Angiama, who has been director at the institute since early this year. “Iniva believes in emergence as a vital force for creation.”
In November 2004, Hall delivered the Raphael Samuel Memorial Lecture to a brimming audience at London’s Conway Hall. The talk, which would later be published by iniva in a collection of essays under the title Black Diaspora Artists in Britain: Three ‘Moments’ in Post-war History, was the pinnacle of a day devoted to “Black Diaspora Artists in Britain, Past and Present”. With his easy charm and clarity, Hall characterised three ‘moments’ of Black art in postwar Britain.
The first wave, considered by Hall as the last colonials, arrived in Britain believing that they “naturally belonged to the modern movement and, in a way, it belonged to them”. Despite their own racial frictions and violent encounters in Britain, the art produced by sculptor Ronald Moody and abstractionist Frank Bowling did not match “the speed and depth of this racialising process” as seen in second-wave artworks such as Eddie Chambers’ “Destruction of the National Front” (1979–80), Keith Piper’s “Reactionary Suicide: “Black Boys Keep Swinging (Another N***er Died Today)” (1982) and Donald Rodney’s “The Lexicon of Liberation” (1984). Hall argues that “(this) new ‘horizon’ produced a polemical and politicised art: a highly graphic, iconographic art of line and montage, cutout and collage, image and slogan, the ‘message’ often appearing too pressing, too immediate, too literal, to brook formal delay and, instead, breaking insistently into ‘writing’. The Black body – stretched, threatened, distorted, degraded, imprisoned, beaten and resisting – became an iconic recurring motif.” Subjectively British, and resolutely anti-racist.
In the 1980s the term ‘Black British Art’ was often used to refer to the creative practices of other ethnic groups (in particular Asian and Arab) who identified with the political category ‘Black’ as a signifier indicating ‘oppressed people’ or ‘people on the margins’. Today, without racial smudging or the collapse of nuanced identities, we can accurately understand the artistic practices of Black, Asian and Arab groups – both in terms of a diasporic emplacement in the United Kingdom, and the trajectory inside and outside the established art world.
“We need to come together to tell new stories and rewrite knowledge that means something to us collectively” – Sepake Angiama
In the present, Black British art and culture has never been in such a productive and generative space as it is now. At iniva, artists including Steve McQueen, Yinka Shonibare and Sonia Boyce were supported early on and now resonate internationally – Boyce will be the first Black woman to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale in 2022. But, of course, the intense focus on state accolades and ‘firsts’ has not shifted. Neoliberalism makes fertile grounds for suspicion and envy among artists and cultural practitioners for widely desired international notoriety, prestigious commissions and monetary prizes – regardless of the debt-driven trajectory and isolated existence often required for such aspirations.
In his 1992 essay “What Is This ‘Black’ in Black Popular Culture?”, Hall spoke to this state that many Black artists find themselves in, calling for us to “bear in mind postmodernism’s deep and ambivalent fascination with difference – sexual difference, cultural difference, racial difference and, above all, ethnic difference. Quite in opposition to the blindness and hostility that European high culture evidenced on the whole toward ethnic difference – its inability even to speak ethnicity when it was so manifestly registering its effects – there is nothing that global postmodernism loves better than a certain kind of difference: a touch of ethnicity, a taste of the exotic, as we say in England, ‘a bit of the other’.”
Hall, born in pre-independence Jamaica in 1932, and forged as an acute political thinker in the UK in the second half of the century, is, in 2020, regarded as primarily an academic and a cultural theorist. Though, in truth, he saw himself as a teacher. In his posthumous memoir Familiar Stranger: A Life Between Two Islands, he wrote, “I wanted to be a Black intellectual but it took something of a journey – certainly no flash of insight – to reach this conclusion.” I’m sure that, for some, ‘teacher’ is not glamorous or exalting enough of a vocation for someone of his calibre and legacy. But the only theory worth having, as Hall once remarked, is that which you have to fight off, not that which you speak with profound fluency.
I think about this and his many other lessons from the Stuart Hall Library, a free space with an open membership where I can access rare and radical resources, just a stone’s throw away from Tate Britain physically, but much further in terms of curatorial approach. The Tate galleries have spotlighted Steve McQueen in a major solo retrospective and a public art commission in the past year alone; though as Angiama points out, it was iniva, back in 1995, who recognised his early talent and gave the young artist his first film commission.
THREE INIVA ARTISTS PRESENT NEW WORK
The archive of Delhi-born photographer Sunil Gupta’s OVA (Organisation for Visual Arts) – which promoted the practices of international artists – is hosted at Stuart Hall Library. Gupta here takes excerpts from a personal letter from a lover and mixes them with a work originally made in 1988, which as he recalls, was made “in response to the Tory government’s reprehensible Clause 28 that declared it illegal for local councils to fund any activities that might be deemed to promote homosexual relationships”.
Rosa-Johan Uddoh is a performance artist and iniva’s first digital artist-in-residence. Her work explores how places, objects and characters in British popular culture affect our self-formation. This tongue-twister of a script is an extract from her upcoming publication for Focal Point Gallery and Bookworks. “Read it aloud, let it get stuck in your head and I hope you’ll get your tongue around breaking the silence around Black history in Britain, literally,” says the artist.
Jade Montserrat is a multidisciplinary artist based in Scarborough who is supported by a Stuart Hall Foundation scholarship in her work from a Black diasporic perspective in the north of England. This performance-to-camera collage was made with filmmakers Webb-Ellis, and, in the artist’s words, extends her idea that drawing is a mode of being and operating, asking, “What does it mean to survey and reclaim ‘environments’, our relationship to space, and where are potentials for reclamation or belongings?”
Interested in becoming a member of iniva? You can find out more about joining here.