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Amanda Sebestyen

Amanda Sebestyen is a freelance journalist, writer and editor, who was responsible for a number of important and empathetic reviews of Black artists’ work in the mid to late 1980s. She was an art critic for City Limits and the New Statesman and Society. Her editing work includes 68-78-88 – From Women’s Liberation to Feminism, for Prism Press, in 1988.

Sebestyen reviewed Sonia Boyce’s solo exhibition at the Whitechapel for W.A.S.L. [Women Artists Slide Library] Journal (no.24 p.27). Sebestyen’s review was typical of her style and approach, in which favourable appraisals were contextualised – by both knowledge and by acknowledgment - of wider or broader historical, cultural, or artistic contexts. From the W.A.S.L Journal article: “[Boyce’s] Recent Work shows her literally tearing her decorated interiors and heroic figures apart, layering them into collage or putting the same image into different exposures, her own gorgeous drawing become one silver in the mix. She has gone back to home base in the Black British school of artists, passing through the different codes and styles of her peers.”

Previous to this, Sebestyen had reviewed State of the Art, a touring group exhibition organised by the ICA in 1987, which related directly to a Channel 4 series and book of the same name, by Sandy Nairne. Sebestyen’s article, which appeared in New Socialist magazine, (March 1987, p 37 – 39) - included a description of Donald Rodney’s work that was included in the exhibition. Some time later, Sebestyen wrote a valuable review of Donald Rodney’s important  Crisis exhibition at Chisenhale Gallery in early 1989. She referred time and again to the various ways in which Rodney had used X-rays, eventually leading her to mention his blood disorder and seeking to link it to a stilted perception of the presence of AIDS, which at the time occupied a dominant, though singularly hysterical and prejudiced presence in the media. She wrote: “Donald Rodney also suffers from sickle-cell anaemia, which, like AIDS, is little understood because it only affects people who are themselves seen as disease in our body politic.”  (Different Diasporas, New Statesman and Society, 3 February 1989, p 49).

Different diasporas (which was subtitled Amanda Sebestyen on sustaining the politics of resistance in black British art) was an amalgamation of three reviews of artists’ exhibitions that were all taking place in London galleries within the same time period. Alongside her reviews of Crisis, (the solo exhibition by Donald Rodney at Chisenhale Gallery, 18/1/89 - 18/2/89, referred to earlier, there were reviews of The Fire in the Garden solo exhibition by Shaheen Merali at Tom Allen Centre - 17/2/89 and Black Art by Machines, solo exhibition by Keith Piper at Bedford Hill Gallery. Sebestyen perceived the exhibitions to be much more than isolated or coincidental occurrences, seeing them instead as powerful, prescient and refreshing counter to what she called “the flatulent gestures of most postmodern painting”. Her text opened with: “Viewing black British art, after the flatulent gestures of most postmodern painting, is a joy. These are works where the politics of resistance (not only black, but green, red and sexual), the crafts and mythologies of continents and the classical art of the west are shuffled and played with superb confidence by artists still mostly in their twenties.”

Towards the end of that year, Sebestyen was responsible for a major piece on The Other Story exhibition, for City Limits, the London listings magazine (30 November - 7 December 1989, p.16-17). Titled The Other Story, and subtitled: This week, the Hayward hosts the first ever major exhibition of work by black artists. But already the show is stirring up controversy. Amanda Sebestyen reports.

Sebestyen’s article, spread over two pages, contained a number of colour reproductions of works from the exhibition - with the following caption: “Clockwise from left: “Destruction of the NF“ by Eddie Chambers; F N Souza’s “Black Nude“; “She ain’t holding them up, she’s holding on“ by Sonia Boyce; Ivan Peries “The Arrival“. Her article looked at the exhibition and made reference to some of the many different debates and arguments it spawned. She discussed some of artists involved and their careers and spoke to the exhibition’s curator, Rasheed Araeen, who was quoted as saying “This is not a black art show. This is not an ethnic art show ““First of all“, [Araeen] says “it’s an act of historical justice. A homage to the talented generations who left their home countries and challenged the metropolitan avant-garde. Their successes were often phenomenal, but their names have been erased in their own lifetimes.“”

For a time, Sebestyen was a strong, supportive and empathetic commentator, who was not afraid to bring her own political sensibilities and sympathies to bear, in her appraisals of Black artists’ work.

Related items

click to show details of Different diasporas (on work by Rodney, Merali and Piper)

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Article relating to an exhibition, 1989

click to show details of The Other Story - City Limits

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Article relating to an exhibition, 1989

click to show details of Sonia Boyce | Recent Work - review

»  Sonia Boyce | Recent Work - review

Review relating to an exhibition, 1988