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Michael Forbes

Born, 1962

Michael Forbes is a prolific artist, photographer and curator, with links to Nottingham, in the East Midlands. He is widely travelled and his art practice reflects a broad range of concerns and interests. He was for a time involved in the running and directing of The New Art Exchange, Nottingham. He was one of the artists included in the gallery’s opening exhibition, Next We Change Earth.

A few years ago, Forbes exhibited alongside Godfried Donkor and Johannes Phokela in a group exhibition at Bonington Gallery, Nottingham. For the exhibition he contributed a series of unadorned screenprints titled Red Black Blood Skin. The screenprints were stark affairs - black ink printed on a red background - and featured lithographs that graphically depicted scenes of torture, punishment, brutality and death that were an intrinsic feature of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The origins of these images of captured Africans and their tormentors and enslavers date back to the abolitionist movements of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Forbes’ interest in the symbolism of Black people’s history is ongoing and takes a variety of forms. Whilst Red Black Blood Skin was a series of silkscreen prints, a later series took the form of the appropriation of found objects. Within his work for Next We Change Earth, ‘Coloured Black’, Forbes declared himself to be exorcised by the notion that history has bequeathed Black people a troubled and problematic state of marginality and invisibility. Marginality because the legacy of slavery has, it could be argued, created and sustained a culture of racism that sees Black people as having less ability and less humanity than others within British/Western society. Invisibility because the presence and contributions of Black people have the unmistakable appearance of having been studiously erased from the shared sense of ‘British’ history held by the vast majority of white people in this country. Most people in this country would concede, or accept, that the African-Caribbean immigrants who made their way to Britain in the decades immediately following World War II created an unmistakable and irreversible Black presence. But comparatively few would accept, or even know, that the Black presence in Britain stretches back to Roman times. Within his work for Next We Change Earth’, Forbes attempted to challenge not only the vindictive erasing of Black people from British history, but also the attendant self-image of cultural, historical and social superiority held - consciously or unconsciously - by white Europeans. The factors responsible for this are multiple and varied. We can blame history books, or the ways in which history has been taught in our schools. We might also blame the media, or at least, parts of it. Forbes has used the perhaps unlikely object of the china figurine in his attempts to critique the ingrained cultural sense of superiority that accompanies the pointed exclusion of Black people from Britain’s history. For ‘Coloured Black’ Forbes bought, collected and acquired hundreds of porcelain figurines, symbolic of a fictitious, but deeply held sense of a glorious, cultured and refined period of European greatness. Each gaudy figurine was then repainted, the previously white skin of the ornaments becoming instead decidedly blacker. In so doing, Forbes, at a (brush) stroke, (re) created an historical Black presence and created a series of poignant and arresting narratives arising out of absence and presence. The new figurines were then displayed on shelves and within cabinets, in the gallery space.

Michael Forbes’ work was included in the group exhibition The Meaning of Style: Black British Style, and the underlying political and social environment. (New Art Exchange, 16 January - 10 April 2010)


Related items

click to show details of Next We Change Earth

»  Next We Change Earth

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 2008

click to show details of There is No Redemption/Origin of End

»  There is No Redemption/Origin of End

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 2002

Related exhibitions

»  Next We Change Earth

Group show at New Art Exchange. 2008

Related venues

»  Art Exchange Gallery / New Art Exchange

Nottingham, United Kingdom

»  City Gallery Leicester

Leicester, United Kingdom