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The Black-Art Gallery

London, United Kingdom

The Black-Art Gallery in North London was established by Shakka Gyata Dedi and a close group of associates. Together, they founded the project responsible for establishing and running the gallery - OBAALA - the Organisation for Black Arts Advancement and Leisure Activities. Subsequently, the world ‘Learning’ replaced the word ‘Leisure’. Under Dedi’s directorship, a significant number of Black artists had their first London solo exhibitions, which came with catalogues, posters, opening view cards, press releases and so on. In that regard, the gallery did much to present the work of a wide range of artists of African background and origin in a professional environment. Early exhibitions included ones by Keith Piper, Eddie Chambers, Donald Rodney, Sonia Boyce, and others.

A passionate believer in the potential of ‘Black Art’ to be a driving, guiding and illuminating force in the lives and destiny of Black (African, or Afrikan) peoples, Shakka Dedi and his colleagues created one of the first British manifestos of Black Art, which appeared in the catalogues accompanying several early exhibitions at The Black-Art Gallery, beginning with Heart in Exile, the gallery’s opening exhibition in the autumn of 1983.

From this point onwards, for the next six years, The Black-Art Gallery was in a position to impact on the ongoing debate about the nature, relevance and validity of ‘Black Art’ in Britain. OBAALA’s view of Black art was to some extent a reworking of the Black art manifestos offered ten to fifteen years earlier by the African American poets and prophets. “We believe that Black art is born of a consciousness based upon experience of what it means to be an Afrikan descendant wherever in the world we are. ‘Black’ in our context means all those of Afrikan descent. ‘Art’; the creative expression of the Black person or group based on historical or contemporary experiences. Black-Art should provide an historical document of local and international Black experience. It should educate by perpetuating traditional art forms to suit new experiences and environments. It is essential that Black artists aim to make their art ‘popular’ - that is an expression that the whole community can recognise and understand”. (1)

The OBAALA manifesto continued “we also believe that artistic creativity should extend itself to functional and common usage artefacts (e.g. Household furniture and artefacts). Overall honesty should be the mark of Black-Art, Therefore it cannot afford to be elitist or pretentious. We believe that Black-Art can, should and will play a very important role in community education and positive development, and that it is by having their work recognised by the general community that Black artists draw their strength. OBAALA exists therefore, to stimulate and implement discussion and activity which will bring about the desired close relationship between consciousness, art and positive community development.” (2)

One of the ways in which OBAALA strove to maintain what it considered to be a clear position was in the naming of the gallery. Whilst some artists and activists were starting to shy away from the term ‘Black Art’, OBAALA mounted a spirited defence of the term by calling their gallery space “The Black-Art Gallery”. This was not meant to be just a “Black” gallery. It was meant to be a unique exhibition space, dedicated to the promotion of “Black-Art”. Capital B, hyphen, capital A. The gallery refused to use or recognise any variation of this. The first exhibition organised and presented at The Black-Art Gallery was Heart in Exile which featured the work of 22 artists. Every one of them was of African-Caribbean origin. For almost a decade, the gallery maintained its “Afrikan-Caribbean” position and no other artists were exhibited there. Non-figurative or abstract painting was conspicuously absent from the gallery exhibition programme, because such work could be seen as being “elitist or pretentious”.

Following his departure from The Black-Art Gallery, Shakka Dedi ceased his involvement in the visual arts. However, in the development of Black artists’ practice in London in the 1980s, Shakka Dedi’s contributions remain substantial and of huge importance.

The Black-Art Gallery received its core funding in large part from Islington Borough Council. Following a period under the directorship of Marlene Smith, who steered the space in a different direction to the course charted by her predecessor, the gallery ceased operating towards the mid 1990s.

Islington Local History Centre, Finsbury Library has no information relating to The Black-Art Gallery in any of its catalogues and indexes.

(1) A Statement on Black Art and the Gallery. OBAALA Committee. Contained in Heart in Exile catalogue. p.4

(2) A Statement on Black Art and the Gallery. OBAALA Committee. Contained in Heart in Exile catalogue. p.4

Related items + view all 22

click to show details of Donald Rodney/The Atrocity Exhibition

»  Donald Rodney/The Atrocity Exhibition

Article relating to an exhibition, 1986

click to show details of Donald Rodney | In Retrospect

»  Donald Rodney | In Retrospect

Invite relating to an exhibition, 2008

click to show details of Donald Rodney | In Retrospect - exhibition guide

»  Donald Rodney | In Retrospect - exhibition guide

Exhibition guide relating to an exhibition, 2008

click to show details of Donald Rodney | In Retrospect - invite

»  Donald Rodney | In Retrospect - invite

Invite relating to an exhibition, 2008

click to show details of Liberator armed with paint brush

»  Liberator armed with paint brush

Article relating to an exhibition, 1986

Exhibitions at this venue + view all 8

»  African Gardens

Solo show at The Black-Art Gallery. 1993

»  Heart in Exile

Group show at The Black-Art Gallery. 1983

»  Sphinx

Solo show at The Black-Art Gallery, Pavilion. 1987

People who have appeared at this venue + view all 32

»  Eddie Chambers

Born, 1960 in Wolverhampton, England

»  Lubaina Himid MBE

Born, 1954 in Zanzibar, Tanzania

»  Donald Rodney

Born, 1961 in Birmingham, England. Died, 1998

»  Marlene Smith

Born, 1964 in Birmingham, England

»  Maud Sulter

Born, 1960 in Glasgow, Scotland. Died, 2008