– Summer 2015

Events, Works, Exhibitions

Iniva: Everything Crash

Eddie Chambers

Poster for the exhibition ‘Into the Open: New paintings, prints and sculptures by contemporary Black artists’, Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffield, 1984, curated by Lubaina Himid and Pogus Caesar. Courtesy Museums Sheffield

It is now well known that the Institute of International Visual Arts — one of Arts Council England’s flagship initiatives, more commonly known by its acronym Iniva — has become mired in a protracted and seemingly fatal combination of budgetary, structural and, perhaps most importantly, ideological difficulties.1 Details of Iniva’s problems make for uncomfortable reading, though, sadly, arts initiatives launched with much fanfare and running into chronic difficulties relatively shortly thereafter are indeed a now-familiar occurrence. This text has as its concern Iniva’s ideological framing and the ways in which the tensions, contradictions and flaws that lay behind its stated agenda of ‘internationalism’ have come to be exposed like open wounds or compound fractures.

Iniva’s origins in the early 1990s can be traced back to the pronounced emergence of Black British artists in 1980s Britain. (For the purposes of this text, ‘Black British artists’ 
is taken to refer to British-born, British-raised or British-based artists whose backgrounds lie in the continents and regions of Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.) The 1980s were, relatively speaking, years of unprecedented activity for Black artists in Britain. Previous decades, going back to the 1960s, had seen a number of important visual arts contributions at certain, mostly London-based galleries by

  1. The latest and most notorious of these was the announcement, in July 2014, that the Arts Council England had decided to cut Iniva’s National Portfolio Organisation grant by 62.3% for the period 2015—18 (following a previous 43% slash in 2012—13). In contrast, the NPO organisation Autograph ABP (the Association of Black Photographers), saw its allocated budget almost doubled so that it 
could assume management of the building it shares with Iniva. See Morgan Quaintance, ‘Iniva: Fit for Purpose?’, Art Monthly, no.380, October 2014, pp.33—35; and Grant Watson, ‘Response to Morgan Quaintance’s “Iniva: Fit for Purpose?”’, Art Monthly, no.382, December 2014—January 2015, pp.14—15. Iniva's director, Tessa Jackson, stepped down in May 2015.

  2. ‘Black Art an’ done’, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, 9—27 June 1981, with works by Dominic Dawes, Andrew Hazell, Ian Palmer, Keith Piper and myself. We organised the exhibition ourselves, as art students and young artists, with guidance from Eric Pemberton, a local schoolteacher who mentored our group.

  3. Lubaina Himid, ‘Letters to Susan’, Thin Black Line(s): Tate Britain 2011/2012 (exh. cat.), Newcastle upon Tyne: University of Central Lancashire, 2011, pp.12—13. ‘The Thin Black Line’, Institute
 of Contemporary Arts, London, 15 November 1985—26 January 1986. Alongside Lubaina Himid,
 the exhibition included works by Brenda Agard, Sutapa Biswas, Sonia Boyce, Chila Kumari Burman, Jennifer Comrie, Claudette Johnson, Ingrid Pollard, Veronica Ryan, Marlene Smith and Maud Sulter.

  4. L. Himid, ‘Mapping: A Decade of Black Women Artists 1980—90’, in Maud Sulter (ed.), Passion: Discourses on Black Women’s Creativity, Hebden Bridge: Urban Fox Press, 1990, p.65.

  5. ‘From Two Worlds: Sixteen Artists of Non-European Background’, Whitechapel Gallery, London, 30 July—7 September 1986.

  6. ‘The Other Story: Afro-Asian Artists in Post-War Britain’, Hayward Gallery, London, 29 November 1989—4 February 1990, curated by Rasheed Araeen and featuring works by Araeen, Frank Bowling, Sonia Boyce, Mona Hatoum, Lubaina Himid, Gavin Jantjes, David Medalla and myself, amongst others. The exhibition later travelled to Wolverhampton and Manchester.

  7. See G. Jantjes, ‘Black Artists, White Institutions: A Paper’, Artrage, issue 11, Winter 1985, pp.3—4; and G. Jantjes, ‘Art & Cultural Reciprocity’, The Essential Black Art (exh. cat.), London: Chisenhale Gallery and Kala Press, 1988, pp.42—45.

  8. See Rasheed Araeen, Making Myself Visible, London: Kala Press, 1984. The range of practitioners whose contributions and practices urged the Arts Council to action is broad. Alongside the artists mentioned above, in a recent essay Jessica Harrington also includes Pan-Afrikan Connection (later known
as the Blk Art Group, which I co-founded in the early 1980s with Keith Piper, Donald Rodney and Marlene Smith), the Sankofa Collective (set up in 1983 by Martina Attille, Maureen Blackwood, Robert Crusz, Isaac Julien and Nadine Marsh-Edwards), the Black Audio Film Collective (founded in 1982 by John Akomfrah, Reece Auguiste, Edward Georg, Lina Gopaul, Avril Johnson, David Lawson and Trevor Mathison) and artists such as Sunil Gupta, Chila Kumari Burman and Ingrid Pollard. See J. Harrington, ‘Thinking Through Diversity’, Journal of Museum Education, vol.34, no.3, September 2009, pp.203—13.

  9. Autograph ABP was established in 1988 as a photographic arts organisation seeking to present a programme of photography-related exhibition, research and publishing activities, with a particular emphasis on addressing issues of cultural identity.

  10. ‘Global Proposals: Nikos Papastergiadis talks to Gilane Tawadros’, frieze, November—December 1994, p.28.

  11. Dalya Alberge, ‘“Artists of colour” gallery redraws the cultural map’, The Independent, 25 August 1992, available at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/artists-of-colour-gallery-redraws-the-cultural-map-1542292.html (last accessed on 24 March 2015).

  12. Ibid.

  13. ‘Global Proposals: Nikos Papastergiadis talks to Gilane Tawadros’, op. cit., p.29.

  14. For more on the breadth of Gilane Tawadros’s programming, see her recent open letter ‘The Importance 
of Iniva’, Art Monthly, no.385, April 2015, p.11.

  15. ‘Global Proposals', op. cit. The proceedings of the conference were published in Jean Fisher (ed.), Global Visions: Towards a New Internationalism in the Visual Arts, London: Kala Press in association with the Institute of International Visual Arts, 1994.

  16. Though there is no space here to explore this issue in depth, it is worth noting that the diversity policies that were established in the UK at around the same time as Iniva was being set up compounded the marginalisation of Black artists and Black people. For a discussion of Arts Council England’s policies regarding cultural diversity, see Richard Hylton, The Nature of the Beast: Cultural Diversity
and the Visual Arts Sector, Bath: Institute of Contemporary Interdisciplinary Arts, 2007.