Precarious Solidarities: Artists for Democracy
An online gathering to engage with the legacies of Artists for Democracy (1974–77) and cultural solidarity.
2 February 2023, online, 10:00–17:40 (UTC)
*Please note: updated timing. February 1st has been called as a strike day for universities alongside other public sector workers in the UK. In recognition of this, the programme took place on 2nd February.*
This Exhibition Histories symposium takes Artists for Democracy (AFD) as a starting point to explore the entanglement of artistic practices with transnational solidarities shaped by migration and political mobilisation. AFD formed in London in 1974 to give ‘material and cultural support to liberation movements worldwide’. The founding group included Guy Brett, John Dugger, David Medalla and Cecilia Vicuña, and their first major initiative was a festival and exhibition at the Royal College of Art organised in solidarity with Chile, a multifaceted two-week gathering of performance, exhibition and discussion – ‘a space of conversation and mutual apprenticeship … that brought together artists from Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas in a multifaceted conglomerate’. AFD then reconvened at 143 Whitfield Street as a space for exhibitions, events and organising, latterly renaming itself ‘Fitzrovia Cultural Centre’.
AFD’s position in history is complex: its core events took place in London, but its activities and orientation connect personal and artistic trajectories spanning Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. It took form at an intersection of nationalist and internationalist agendas – the artistic internationalism advanced by Signals gallery and News Bulletin during the 1960s, and local and international coalitions of solidarity campaigns, liberation struggles, trade union blocs, and local campaigns on healthcare and housing. Notable initiatives at the AFD space include Rasheed Araeen’s first solo exhibition in Britain (1975); festival in solidarity with Vietnam and Indochina (1975); ‘China Show’ (1976); the American Indian Movement protest exhibition (1976); David Medalla’s ‘participation-production-propulsion’ Eskimo Carver (1977). Other artists involved include Anne Bean, Stephen Cripps, Rose English, Susan Hiller, Tina Keane, Limited Dance Company, Lynn MacRitchie, David Toop, among many others, and Whitfield St itself emerged as a collectively organised, artist-led and experimental institution.
Drawing from approaches in exhibition studies, this gathering will approach these histories through an intersection of multiple overlapping agencies and conditions of possibility – artistic, social, political, historical and geographic – to explore what we can learn from Artist for Democracy’s histories today. Contributors include George Clark & Cuong Pham with An Viet Archive, Wing Chan, Jane England, Charles Esche, Hannah Healey, Eileen Legaspi-Ramirez, María José Lemaitre & Caroll Yasky (Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende), Lynn MacRitchie, Courtney J. Martin, Arianna Mercado, Adeena Mey, Jonathan Miles, David Morris, Ife Nii Owoo, Nii Kwate Owoo, Jun Terra, Yaiza Hernández Velázquez and Cecilia Vicuña.
Part 1/2: 10:00–13:20 (UTC)
Speakers: Wing Chan, Charles Esche, Eileen Legaspi-Ramirez, María José Lemaitre & Caroll Yasky (Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende), Courtney J. Martin, Arianna Mercado, David Morris, Jun Terra, Yaiza Hernández Velázquez, and Cecilia Vicuña.
Part 2/2: 14:30–17:40 (UTC)*
Speakers: George Clark & Cuong Pham with An Viet Archive, Jane England, Hannah Healey, Lynn MacRitchie, Adeena Mey, Jonathan Miles, Ife Nii Owoo, and Nii Kwate Owoo.
*The recording is edited to exclude the screenings of “You Hide Me” (1970, 16min) and “Hands” (1975, 20min) to honour copyrights of the artists.
Exhibition Histories is presented in association with the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College; Asia Art Archive; and the Faculty of Fine, Applied and Performing Arts, University of Gothenburg. This event is supported by Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.