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  • Gilbert & George, 'Cunt Scum' 1977

    Gilbert & George
    Cunt Scum 1977
    Mixed media
    unconfirmed: 2413 x 2007 mm
    Presented anonymously 1998 Gilbert and George

    View the main page for this artwork

  • Paul Graham Queue, Paddington DHSS West London 1985

    Paul Graham
    Queue, Paddington DHSS West London 1985
    From Beyond Caring

    © the artist, courtesy Anthony Reynolds Gallery

  • Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen Girl on a 'spacehopper', Janet Street backlane 1971

    Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen
    Girl on a 'spacehopper', Janet Street backlane 1971

    © Konttinen / Amber

  • Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen Kendal Street 1969

    Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen
    Kendal Street 1969

    © Konttinen / Amber

  • Keith Pattison Families of striking miners Easington Colliery, Co. Durham 1984

    Keith Pattison
    Families of striking miners look on as police seal off the pit and escort the first returning miner back to work. Easington Colliery, Co. Durham 1984

    © Keith Pattison

  • Keith Pattison Arrest of Josie Smith 1984

    Keith Pattison
    Arrest of Josie Smith, a retired, disabled miner, during police efforts to escort returning miners back to work 1984

    © Keith Pattison

  • Gilbert & George, 'Coronation Cross' 1981

    Gilbert & George
    Coronation Cross 1981
    Mixed media
    unconfirmed: 1330 x 997 mm
    Purchased 1982 Gilbert and George

    View the main page for this artwork

  • Vanley Burke The Boy with the Flag c.1970-79

    Vanley Burke
    The Boy with the Flag c.1970-79

    © Vanley Burke Archive, Birmingham Central Library

  • Richard Hamilton, 'The citizen' 1981-3

    Richard Hamilton
    The citizen 1981-3
    Oil on canvas
    frame: 2067 x 2102 x 32 mm, 33 kg support, each: 2000 x 1000 mm
    Purchased 1985 The estate of Richard Hamilton

    View the main page for this artwork

  • Rita Donagh Bystander 1977

    Rita Donagh
    Bystander 1977

    © the artist
    © Jerry Hardman-Jones

During the 1970s and 1980s, feminist and black artists and filmmakers used, and often subverted, documentary modes in order to address the role of women in society and the construction of a multicultural image of Britain. From the position of being excluded from mainstream history, female and black artists often adopted documentary practices to give weight to their arguments (through the presentation of ‘evidence’) or to challenge these practices from within, revealing apparently objective representation as a construction that derived its bias from the existing power relations within society.

Margaret Harrison, Mary Kelly and Kay Hunt collaborated on Women and Work 1973–5, an investigation of the differences between women’s and men’s pay in a Bermondsey factory. The work privileges factual data and direct testimony, presenting it as sociological evidence. The Berwick Street Film Collective, in which Kelly participated at this time, produced the experimental political film Nightcleaners 1975, which addressed similar social and gender concerns.

The films of John Akomfrah and Isaac Julien challenged the conventions of art and documentary, exploring issues of race and authority in Britain. The work of Gilbert & George also addresses issues of race, power and social unrest: in Cunt Scum 1977 obscene graffiti is combined with documentary images evoking the racial tensions and street violence of the time.

In television, Paul Watson and Frank Roddam’s influential series The Family 1974 saw the founding of the fly-on-the-wall genre in Britain; this new form, which has since become ubiquitous, began as a radical disruption of convention and a confrontation with questions of voyeurism and exploitation. Thus The Family addressed the limits and ethics of the documentary form.