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Commonwealth Institute

London, United Kingdom

The forerunner of the Commonwealth Institute was known as the Imperial Institute. A measure of its significance, as a venue for the work of artist from countries of the British Empire, or former countries of the British Empre, such as India, can be gleaned from a sentence in a personal recollection by Avinash Chandra. In his text of 1968, Avinash Chandra: Some personal notes (Studio International journal of modern art, October 1968), Chandra wrote (of London, a decade or so earlier), “…Then, like most Indian and other ‘colonial’ painters, I had my first London show at the Commonwealth Institute (then the Imperial Institute) and, once again, enjoyed some success.”

There were two gallery spaces at the Commonwealth Institute, located at Kensington High Street. The main space opened with an inaugural exhibition, Commonwealth Art Today, on 7 November 1962. A second space, known as the Bhownagree Gallery, occupying a passageway/corridor, also existed within this central London complex, which existed to promote the arts, culture, and other aspects of the countries of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Institute hosted a considerable number of important exhibitions, over a period of nearly four decades. These exhibitions included solo shows, group shows, by artists from, or with significant links to, the countries of the Commonwealth. The inaugural exhibition, Commonwealth Art Today, provided an invaluable series of snapshots of contemporary art practice, as it existed across extensive parts of the world. Guyana (then known as British Guiana) was represented by Frank Bowling and Aubrey Williams.

A piece titled Exhibitions at the Commonwealth Institute appeared in the Winter 1973 issue of African Arts magazine (Volume VI, Number 2). The piece was written by South African-born artist Denis Bowen. The text opened, “During the course of any twelve months or so the program of exhibitions organized by the Commonwealth Art Gallery in London invariably provides some opporunities to study the work of contemporary African artists. The 1972 program included exhibitions of paintings by Yusuf Grillo of Nigeria and of wood carvings by Mwariko Omari of Tanzania.” This was in effect a review of these two artists’ work.

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click to show details of 1st Commonwealth Biennale of Abstract Art

»  1st Commonwealth Biennale of Abstract Art

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1963

click to show details of Balraj Khanna, Mak Kum-Siew, Shiv Singh

»  Balraj Khanna, Mak Kum-Siew, Shiv Singh

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1970

click to show details of Jamaican Intuitives

»  Jamaican Intuitives

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1986

click to show details of Jamaican Intuitives - Arts Review

»  Jamaican Intuitives - Arts Review

Review relating to an exhibition, 1986

click to show details of Ten Jamaican Sculptors catalogue

»  Ten Jamaican Sculptors catalogue

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1975

Exhibitions at this venue

People who have appeared at this venue + view all 88

»  Albert Artwell

Born, 1942 in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica

»  Everald Brown

Born, 1917 in St. Ann, Jamaica. Died, 2002

»  Ras Dizzy

Born, 1927 - 1937 (probably 1932) in Jamaica. Died, 2008

»  Kapo (Mallica Reynolds)

Born, 1911 in St. Catherine, Jamaica. Died, 1989

»  Gaston Tabois

Born, 1918 - 1930 (probably 1924) in Trout Hall, Clarendon, Jamaica. Died, 2012

Jamaican Intuitives

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1986
Published by: Commonwealth Institute
Year published: 1986
Number of pages: 34

image of Jamaican Intuitives

This was the first exhibition in the United Kingdom of artists from Jamaica who had come to be known as Intuitives. [Jamaican Intuitives: Visionary paintings and sculpture direct from Jamaica. Commonwealth Institute, London, 21 August - 5 October 1986, then touring to Wolverhampton Art Gallery, 11 October - 11 November 1986.]

Previously, such artists were referred to be a range of terminology that was, ultimately, problematic in terms of a perhaps unintended consequence of signifying the work of these artists as being somehow less than the work of real artists. The classic historical term for these artists was primitive. Then came such terms as visionary, outsider, self-taught, etc. In some ways, any term applied to these artists is likely to be problematic, but intuitive was chosen as being perhaps a term that avoided more pejorative readings. The application of the intuitive label was by no means limited to contemporary practitioners; it was applied retrospectively to artists such as John Dunkley (1891 - 1947), described within this catalogue as “Jamaica’s first known intuitive artist.” In some ways, the defining characteristic of these artists was that they were self-taught, although ultimately, such a definition might be found wanting, as it could not, in any real sense, be applied to a Jamaican-born artist such as Ronald Moody, though he too was self-taught.

Dr David Boxer signalled, in a 1975 catalogue, Ten Jamaican Sculptors, his intention to propose a less troubling term than primitive. “Edna Manley’s influence clearly wanes when we come to inspect the works of our so-called “primitives” - though it is time this misnomer was dropped.”

Boxer discussed the intuitives label in the Foreword to this Jamaican Intuitives catalogue. Boxer, Director/curator of the National Gallery of Jamaica, stated, “The exhibition follows, in outline, the landmark exhibition which we mounted at the National Gallery in Kingston in 1979. The Intuitive Eye, in which we brought under the banner of the title Intuitive - a group of artists essentially self-taught who had for years created outside of the mainstream of Jamaican Art and who, with few exceptions, were relegated to the status of “amateurs”, “Sunday painters”, “naives”, “primitives”.

Another text in the catalogue - Introduction to the “Intuitive Eye” exhibition, National Gallery of Jamaica, 1979, by Rex Nettleford - elaborated on the significance of the term. “For one thing, the classification of these artists here exhibited will present problems for many. The term ‘primitives’ offers at best an irritating ambiguity especially for people in the developing world while the phrase ‘naive painters’ is something of a semantic monstrosity - at least in English.”

The next text within the catalogue was Extracted from “Jamaican Art 1922-1982” by David Boxer, Ph.D., Smithsonian Institute Travelling Exhibition Service’s exhibition of Jamaican art which toured the United States of America, Canada and Haiti from 1935 to 1985. Boxer’s extract covered The Early Intuitives and The Later Intuitives.

The remainder of the catalogue consisted of brief biographies, lists of work, and reproductions of work by the exhibition’s 22 artists. The artists had one page each, though a number of pages have no illustrations. The middle pages of the catalogue featured a number of reproductions of work from the exhibition, a number of which are in colour.

Catalogue contents as follows:

Credits, Emma Wallace, Visual Arts Officer, Commonwealth Institute, London

1. Foreword, David Boxer, Ph.D

2. Introduction to the “Intuitive Eye” exhibition, National Gallery of Jamaica, 1979, by Rex Nettleford

3. Extracted from “Jamaican Art 1922-1982” by David Boxer, Ph.D., Smithsonian Institute Travelling Exhibition Service’s exhibition of Jamaican art which toured the United States of America, Canada and Haiti from 1935 to 1985.

5. Biographies

 

 

Related people + view all 25

»  Tony Bag

Born, 1953 in Hanover, Jamaica

»  Clinton Brown

Born, 1954 in Kingston, Jamaica

»  Sam Brown

Born, 1935 in Trelawney, Jamaica

»  Lester Hoilett

Born, 1930 in Gayle, Jamaica

»  Ras Dizzy

Born, 1927 - 1937 (probably 1932) in Jamaica. Died, 2008

Related exhibitions

Related venues

»  Commonwealth Institute

London, United Kingdom

»  Wolverhampton Art Gallery

Wolverhampton, United Kingdom

1st Commonwealth Biennale of Abstract Art

Group show at Commonwealth Institute. 1963
Date: 19 September, 1963 until 13 October, 1963
Organiser: Commonwealth Institute

The 1st Commonwealth Biennale of Abstract Art was an innovative exhibition held at the Commonwealth Institute, London. The exhibition’s dates were 19 September - 13 October 1963. The exhibition featured a number of artists from Commonwealth countries, many of whom had settled in Britain over the course of the preceding decade or so. For example, Aubrey Williams had been resident in England since 1954, Ashu Roy had lived in London since 1951, Viren Sahai had lived in London since 1954, Kamil Khan had lived in London since 1957, and Ahmed Parvez had lived in London since 1955. There were contributions from artists such as John Drawbridge, from New Zealand, James Boswell, also from New Zealand, and Bill Featherston, from Canada. The exhibition clearly demonstrated the extent to which abstract art had been  embraced, championed and pioneered by artists from all over the world, including countries of the Commonwealth. The exhibition was supplemented by contributions from “well and lesser-known artists from the United Kingdom” including Frank Avray Wilson, Peter Lanyon, Denis Bowen and Victor Pasmore.

The slim accompanying catalogue had the following text, on its back cover: “The aims of the Commonwealth Biennale are to bring to public attention the work of Commonwealth abstract artists living and working in the United Kingdom, to define the part played by them in the development of painting and sculpture in this country, and to draw to the attention of various Commonwealth countries the achievement of their nationals.

The grouping of the Exhibition is not intended to convey a specific trend in abstract art, but is rather a cross section of significant development in avant-garde work in the United Kingdom.

The Commonwealth Biennale will bring these aims into effect by means of exhibitions at two yearly intervals organised by the artists themselves and with the co-operation of the Commonwealth Institute, and by means of touring exhibitions of selected work in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.”

In his Foreword/Introduction, Charles Spencer wrote, “This exhibition, it will immediately be seen, is restricted to abstract painting. This in itself imposes and presents certain significant suggestions. On one level it establishes the fact that artists from 10 different countries, from widely different cultural backgrounds, and, needless to say, of different religious and racial origins, share a common technical and aesthetic language. Whatever has provoked them to express themselves in visual terms, and whatever philosophical or spiritual comment they wish to make, they have chosen the rather more difficult and complex method of non-figuration.”

In the catalogue, it was noted that Frank Avray Wilson had “donated a sum of money to be awarded as a prize to one of the artists participating.” Though not noted in the catalogue, the prize was awarded to Aubrey Williams.

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click to show details of 1st Commonwealth Biennale of Abstract Art

»  1st Commonwealth Biennale of Abstract Art

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1963

People in this exhibition + view all 28

»  David Partridge

Born, 1919 in Akron, Ohio

»  Ahmed Parvez

Born, 1926 in Rawalpindi, (now Pakistan, then India). Died, 1979

»  Ashu Roy

Born in Calcutta, India, date unknown

»  Ron Russell

Born, 1923 in Australia

»  Brian Wall

Born, 1931

Exhibition venues

»  Commonwealth Institute

London, United Kingdom

1st Commonwealth Biennale of Abstract Art

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1963
Published by: Commonwealth Institute
Year published: 1963
Unpaginated.

image of 1st Commonwealth Biennale of Abstract Art

Relatively modest but hugely important catalogue for an innovative exhibition at the Commonwealth Institute, London. The exhibition was the 1st Commonwealth Biennale of Abstract Art, 19 September - 13 October 1963. The exhibition featured a number of artists from Commonwealth countries, many of whom had settled in Britain over the course of the preceding decade or so. For example, Aubrey Williams had been resident in England since 1954, Ashu Roy had lived in London since 1951, Viren Sahai had lived in London since 1954, Kamil Khan had lived in London since 1957, and Ahmed Parvez had lived in London since 1955. There were contributions from artists such as John Drawbridge, from New Zealand, James Boswell, also from New Zealand, and Bill Featherston, from Canada. The exhibition clearly demonstrated the extent to which abstract art had been  embraced, championed and pioneered by artists from all over the world, including countries of the Commonwealth. The exhibition was supplemented by contributions from “well and lesser-known artists from the United Kingdom” including Frank Avray Wilson, Peter Lanyon, Denis Bowen and Victor Pasmore.

The slim catalogue had the following text, on its back cover: “The aims of the Commonwealth Biennale are to bring to public attention the work of Commonwealth abstract artists living and working in the United Kingdom, to define the part played by them in the development of painting and sculpture in this country, and to draw to the attention of various Commonwealth countries the achievement of their nationals.

The grouping of the Exhibition is not intended to convey a specific trend in abstract art, but is rather a cross section of significant development in avant-garde work in the United Kingdom.

The Commonwealth Biennale will bring these aims into effect by means of exhibitions at two yearly intervals organised by the artists themselves and with the co-operation of the Commonwealth Institute, and by means of touring exhibitions of selected work in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.”

In his Foreword/Introduction, Charles Spencer wrote, “This exhibition, it will immediately be seen, is restricted to abstract painting. This in itself imposes and presents certain significant suggestions. On one level it establishes the fact that artists from 10 different countries, from widely different cultural backgrounds, and, needless to say, of different religious and racial origins, share a common technical and aesthetic language. Whatever has provoked them to express themselves in visual terms, and whatever philosophical or spiritual comment they wish to make, they have chosen the rather more difficult and complex method of non-figuration.”

Catalogue contents:

Foreword/Introduction, Charles Spencer

Thumbnail images, list of works, and brief biographical outlines of the exhibition’s main artists (sixteen)

Supplementary list of  “a selection of well and lesser-known artists from the United Kingdom.”

In the catalogue, it was noted that Frank Avray Wilson had “donated a sum of money to be awarded as a prize to one of the artists participating.” Though not noted in the catalogue, the prize was awarded to Aubrey Williams.

Related people + view all 29

»  Frank Avray Wilson

Born, 1914 in Mauritius. Died, 2009

»  James Boswell

Born, 1906 in Westport, New Zealand

»  Denis Bowen

Born, 1921 in Kimberley, South Africa. Died, 2006

»  Leslie Candappa

Born, 1927 in Columbo, Ceylon (Sri Lanka)

»  Stapleton

Related exhibitions

Related venues

»  Commonwealth Institute

London, United Kingdom

Caribbean Focus 86 Caribbean Art Now press release

Press release relating to an exhibition, 1986
Published by: Commonwealth Institute
Year published: 1986
Unpaginated.

image of Caribbean Focus 86 Caribbean Art Now press release

Two page original press release, dated March 1986. During the 1980s, Caribbean Art found itself constructed as a panacea for ignorance of the wider cultural dynamism of the region. Caribbean Focus ’86 utilised the admonition, ‘Widen Your Vision, Sharpen Your Focus’, and took place “March to November all over the country” and presented “music, theatre, exhibitions, education, ideas, dance and debate”. One of the centrepieces of the programme was Caribbean Art Now, which dubbed itself “Europe’s first exhibition of contemporary Caribbean art” and was held at the Commonwealth Institute over the summer of 1986. (Caribbean Art Now: Europe’s first exhibition of contemporary Caribbean art, Commonwealth Institute, London, 17 June – 4 August 1986).

The exhibition’s press release boldly stated, “FIRST EUROPEAN EXHIBITION OF CONTEMPORARY CARIBBEAN ART The western world has seen remarkably little of contemporary art from the Caribbean. The Commonwealth Institute’s major exhibition, ‘Caribbean Art Now’ is therefore both an important artistic event and an opportunity for international exposure for the artists concerned. The exhibition is part of Caribbean Focus ’86, a nine month programme of cultural and educational events initiated by the Commonwealth Institute and taken up with great enthusiasm by Caribbean governments and Britons of Caribbean descent. The works of the majority of the artists have never been seen in Britain before and the Institute hopes that the exhibition will do much to correct the often held perception that Caribbean cultural achievements reside only in the literary and musical arts.

Related venues

»  Commonwealth Institute

London, United Kingdom

Balraj Khanna, Mak Kum-Siew, Shiv Singh

Group show at Commonwealth Institute. 1970
Date: 18 June, 1970 until 12 July, 1970
Organiser: Commonwealth Institute

Balraj Khanna - Mak-Kum-Siew - Shiv Singh’ was an exhibition of three artists of Asian background that took place at the Commonwealth Institute Art Gallery, Kensington High Street, London W8, 18 June - 12 July 1970. Kum-Siew was born in Singapore to Chinese parents and was educated and studied drawing and painting in Singapore before arriving in London in 1961 to study at St Martin’s School of Art 1961-64 and at the Royal College of Art 1964-67. Singh, according to the exhibition catalogue, “Studied at Punjab University and the Punjab College of Art. Taught in India 1963-68 and established the Tagore Art Gallery and Library at Kapurthala. Founder member of the Loose Group of Artists, Punjab and took part in The National Sculptors’ Camp, New Delhi, 1967. Now lives and works in West Germany.” Singh work was sculptural, whilst Khanna and Kum-Siew contributed paintings to the exhibition.

The exhibition came with a modest but important catalogue, with illustrations, that was itself printed at the Commonwealth Institute.

Related items

click to show details of Balraj Khanna, Mak Kum-Siew, Shiv Singh

»  Balraj Khanna, Mak Kum-Siew, Shiv Singh

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1970

People in this exhibition

»  Balraj Khanna

Born, 1938 - 1942 (probably 1940) in Punjab, India

»  Mak Kum-Siew

Born, 1940 in Singapore

»  Shiv Singh

Born, 1938 in Punjab, India

Exhibition venues

»  Commonwealth Institute

London, United Kingdom

Balraj Khanna, Mak Kum-Siew, Shiv Singh

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1970
Published by: Commonwealth Institute
Year published: 1970
Unpaginated.

image of Balraj Khanna, Mak Kum-Siew, Shiv Singh

Balraj Khanna - Mak-Kum-Siew - Shiv Singh’ was an exhibition of three artists of Asian background that took place at the Commonwealth Institute Art Gallery, Kensington High Street, London W8, 18 June - 12 July 1970. Kum-Siew was born in Singapore to Chinese parents and was educated and studied drawing and painting in Singapore before arriving in London in 1961 to study at St Martin’s School of Art 1961-64 and at the Royal College of Art 1964-67. Singh, according to the exhibition catalogue, “Studied at Punjab University and the Punjab College of Art. Taught in India 1963-68 and established the Tagore Art Gallery and Library at Kapurthala. Founder member of the Loose Group of Artists, Punjab and took part in The National Sculptors’ Camp, New Delhi, 1967. Now lives and works in West Germany.” Singh work was sculptural, whilst Khanna and Kum-Siew contributed paintings to the exhibition.

The exhibition came with this modest but important catalogue, with illustrations, that was itself printed at the Commonwealth Institute.

Contents:

Balraj Khanna, Biographical Note
Catalogue (list of titles and dimensions) of Khanna’s work in the exhibition. (Note, a revised loose leaf list has been inserted in the catalogue)
Two uncredited page sized images of Khanna’s work
Mak Kum-Siew, Biographical Note
Catalogue (list of titles and dimensions) of Kum-Siew’s work in the exhibition.
Two uncredited page sized images of Kum-Siew’s work
Shiv Singh, Biographical Note
Catalogue (list of titles and dimensions) of Singh’s work in the exhibition.
Four uncredited page high images of Singh’s work

All images monochrome

 

Related people

»  Balraj Khanna

Born, 1938 - 1942 (probably 1940) in Punjab, India

»  Mak Kum-Siew

Born, 1940 in Singapore

»  Shiv Singh

Born, 1938 in Punjab, India

Related exhibitions

Related venues

»  Commonwealth Institute

London, United Kingdom

Commonwealth Artists of Fame 1952 - 1977 - catalogue

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1977
Published by: Commonwealth Institute
Year published: 1977
Unpaginated.

image of Commonwealth Artists of Fame 1952 - 1977 - catalogue

Catalogue for one of the most intriguing exhibitions to take place at the Commonwealth Institute, and one of the most intriguing exhibitions of the 1970s, ‘52 - ‘77 Commonwealth Artists of Fame. The exhibition brought together some of the leading white British artists of the time, such as Henry Moore, with their counterparts from other parts of the British Commonwealth, including the likes of Ronald Moody, F N Souza, and Avinash Chandra. Thus, the exhibition brought together artists from a plurality of backgrounds and countries of origin, within the jubilee year of the reign of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and used the 25 year period of the jubilee to reflect on international art practices over that period of time.

This was a particularly global exhibition; M P Alladin from Trinidad, Oku Ampofo and Arthur Bucknor from Ghana, Douglas Bland, Henry Moore and Jack Shadbolt from England, Olayinke Burney-Nicol from Sierra Leone, Avinash Chandra, Maqbul Husain and Francis Newton Souza from India, Alex Colville and Jean-Paul Riopelle from Canada, Emanuel Vincent Cremona from Malta, Ben Enwonwu and Lamidi Fakeye from Nigeria, Irvine Homer and Sidney Nolan from Australia, John Hutton, Colin McCahon and Mountford Tosswill Woolaston from New Zealand, George Keyt from Sri Lanka, Lui Shou-Kwan and Chuah Thean Teng from China, Ronald Moody from Jamaica, Sam J Ntiro from Tanzania, Stass Paraskos from Cyprus and Aubrey Williams from Guyana. As the exhibition title indicated, these were all artists who had achieved fame and success both within and beyond their respective countries, exhibiting together, as equals.

The Foreword, written by the Director of the Commonwealth Institute (whose name is not noted and whose signature is undecipherable) as follows: “It is appropriate that the Commonwealth Art Gallery should mark the Silver Jubilee of H.M. The Queen as Head of the Commonwealth and the presence in London of the Commonwealth Heads of Government for one of their periodic meetings in June 1977.

We are deeply grateful to the artists and owners of works of art who have co-operated with us in making possible a necessarily selective exhibition…

We hope that our visitors will enjoy this glimpse of the diversity of artistic talent from many Commonwealth countries and learn something of its evolution over the past twenty-five years.”

The Introduction that followed was penned by the Curator of the Commonwealth Institute’s Art Gallery, Donald Bowen. Bowen was well placed to assemble such an exhibition and provide its overview. In the early 1960’s he had delivered a paper (subsequently appearing in print), titled Contemporary Art in the Commonwealth, Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, Vol. 113, No. 5101 (December 1964), pp. 15 - 29.

“Over the past twenty-five years there have been notable developments in all the arts throughout the Commonwealth. For people in Britain observing the scene, whether with objective or involved interest, the achievement of the newly independent countries is particularly inspiring and remarkable. Future historians will no doubt suggest and provide evidence of a number of causes of this widespread growth in activity. The story will vary from country to country; but common to most if not all explanations will be the attainment of independence, bringing with it a new recognition of history and past cultural achievement, together with the development of economic resources and changed social conditions. But this upsurge of activity, particularly to be noted in countries of the African continent and the Caribbean, is paralleled by the work of architects, musicians, film producers, writers, painters and sculptors in what most of us think of as the older countries, the older members of the Commonwealth whose cultures are in some cases much younger than those of the new, independent countries.

These cultural achievements have not passed unnoticed; on the contrary, they have been acclaimed at a succession of festivals and exhibitions and by publications throughout the world. The individual, in whatever manner involved, cannot keep up with or be fully informed of these achievements and has to content himself with a selection which has to be to some extent personal and arbitrary.

The Commonwealth Institute has played its part in all this activity. Its Art Gallery has organised nearly two hundred exhibitions since it opened fifteen years ago and in that time many countries have arranged national showings, many confirmed reputations have become more familiar, many young artists have taken their first steps in London. In November 1962, when H.M. The Queen opened the ‘new’ Institute, the Art Gallery contained Commonwealth Art Today, a large and appropriate exhibition for the occasion; Commonwealth Artists of Fame 1952 - 1977 is, by its nature and intention, much smaller and much more selective but it continues the purpose and function of the gallery.”

Contents as follows:

Foreword, Director, Commonwealth Institute (as above)

Introduction, Donald Bowen, Curator, Art Gallery, Commonwealth Institute (as above)

Acknowledgements

Artists’ pages - one page image and on facing page, brief biographical sketch plus list of works in the exhibition

Related people + view all 28

»  Douglas Bland

Born, 1923 in Eccleshall, England. Died, 1975

»  Donald Bowen

Born, 1917 in London

»  Arthur Kobina Bucknor

Born, 1925 in Gold Coast (Ghana). Died, 1975

»  Olayinka Burney-Nicol

Born, 1927 in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Died, 1996

»  Avinash Chandra

Born, 1931 in Simla, India. Died, 1991

Related exhibitions

Related venues

»  Commonwealth Institute

London, United Kingdom