The Blk Art Group

Formed in Wolverhampton, England, in 1979, The Blk Art Group was an association of young black artists who, inspired by the black arts movement, raised questions about what black art was, its identity and what it could become in the future

Lubaina Himid, ‘Between the Two my Heart is Balanced’ 1991
Lubaina Himid
Between the Two my Heart is Balanced 1991
© Lubaina Himid
Keith Piper, ‘Go West Young Man’ 1987
Keith Piper
Go West Young Man 1987
© Keith Piper
Donald Rodney, ‘Visceral Canker’ 1990
Donald Rodney
Visceral Canker 1990
© The estate of Donald Rodney

Introduction to The Blk Art Group

All of the members of the group were children of Caribbean migrants raised in the industrial landscape in and around the West Midlands. Their first exhibition, Black Art An’ Done, was held at Wolverhampton Art Gallery and focused on the concerns of the black community and racial prejudice. The group sought to empower black artists as well as encouraging young white artists to be more socially relevant in their practice. Working with a variety of mediums such as painting, installation, assemblage and sculpture they questioned Britain’s social, cultural and political legacies by appropriating, critiquing and reinventing past art.

Many of the artists associated with the Blk Art Group went on to participate in the British black arts movement.

Artists associated with the group include Eddie Chambers, Dominic Dawes, Lubaina Himid, Claudette Johnson, Wenda Leslie, Ian Palmer, Keith Piper, Donald Rodney, Marlene Smith.

In focus: Donald Rodney

Donald Rodney, ‘How the West was Won’ 1982
Donald Rodney
How the West was Won 1982
© The estate of Donald Rodney

Artist Donald Rodney appropriated images from mass media and popular culture to explore issues associated with history, representation, masculinity, racial identity and racism. He also questioned the legacy of museums and galleries and stated in an interview with David Lawson in 2004 that he would like to re-create Tate Britain out of sugar cubes – a material which had brought Britain prosperity at a human cost.

The key theme of Donald’s work was the social position of the black person in a predominantly white society…. He explored his own history and that of his family as immigrants to the UK in works like Land of Milk and Honey and In the House of My Father and he used his illness as a metaphor with which he expressed the marginalisation of the black and disabled.
David Thorpe 

Donald Rodney: interviews
Read interviews several artists, curators and critics who knew Rodney personally and find out about his life, ideas and work.

Donald Rodney in Tate’s collection
Explore our extensive collection of works by Rodney, including forty eight of his notebooks and sketchbooks. 

How do you deal with an artwork that has a missing piece?
This blog post looks at the missing gun piece in Donald Rodney’s How the West was Won, and why his depiction of a cowboy and Native American was such an important work in the history of contemporary British art.

Tate Archive 40 | 2003 Donald Rodney ‘Art indeed is long, but life is short’
This piece looks at a photograph taken of Donald Rodney from Tate’s archive and explores why this image relates so strongly to his desire to portray the theme of racial discrimination in his work.

Five artworks from Tate Liverpool’s Keywords show
Assistant curator, Stephanie Straine, unlocks the stories behind five artworks from Tate Liverpool’s 2014 Keywords exhibition including Rodney’s Visceral Canker.

Related glossary terms

British black arts movementBlack arts movement, diaspora

See also

Donald Rodney Display

Donald Rodney Display at Tate Britain marks Tate Archive’s acquisition of the artist’s papers documenting his work from ...

Late at Tate: Lubaina Himid, Claudette Johnson and Paul Goodwin on Thin Black Line(s)

Hear the curators Lubaina Himid and Paul Goodwin in conversation with artist Claudette Johnson about Tate Britain’s Thin Black ...