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Michael Forbes

Born, 1962

Michael Forbes is an artist, photographer and curator, with links to Nottingham, in the East Midlands. He is widely travelled and his art practice reflects a broad range of concerns and interests. He was for a time involved in the running and directing of The New Art Exchange, Nottingham. He was one of the artists included in the gallery’s opening exhibition, Next We Change Earth.

Some years ago, Forbes exhibited alongside Godfried Donkor and Johannes Phokela in a group exhibition at Bonington Gallery, Nottingham. For the exhibition he contributed a series of unadorned screenprints titled Red Black Blood Skin. The screenprints were stark affairs - black ink printed on a red background - and featured lithographs that graphically depicted scenes of torture, punishment, brutality and death that were an intrinsic feature of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The origins of these images of captured Africans and their tormentors and enslavers date back to the abolitionist movements of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Forbes’ interest in the symbolism of Black people’s history is ongoing and takes a variety of forms. Whilst Red Black Blood Skin was a series of silkscreen prints, a later series took the form of the appropriation of found objects. Within his work for Next We Change Earth, ‘Coloured Black’, Forbes declared himself to be exercised by the notion that history has bequeathed Black people a troubled and problematic state of marginality and invisibility. Marginality because the legacy of slavery has, it could be argued, created and sustained a culture of racism that sees Black people as having less ability and less humanity than others within British/Western society. Invisibility because the presence and contributions of Black people have the unmistakable appearance of having been studiously erased from the shared sense of ‘British’ history held by the vast majority of white people in this country. Most people in this country would concede, or accept, that the African-Caribbean immigrants who made their way to Britain in the decades immediately following World War II created an unmistakable and irreversible Black presence. But comparatively few would accept, or even know, that the Black presence in Britain stretches back to Roman times. Within his work for ‘Next We Change Earth’, Forbes attempted to challenge not only the vindictive erasing of Black people from British history, but also the attendant self-image of cultural, historical and social superiority held - consciously or unconsciously - by white Europeans. The factors responsible for this are multiple and varied. We can blame history books, or the ways in which history has been taught in our schools. We might also blame the media, or at least, parts of it. Forbes has used the perhaps unlikely object of the china figurine in his attempts to critique the ingrained cultural sense of superiority that accompanies the pointed exclusion of Black people from Britain’s history. For ‘Coloured Black’ Forbes bought, collected and acquired hundreds of porcelain figurines, symbolic of a fictitious, but deeply held sense of a glorious, cultured and refined period of European greatness. Each gaudy figurine was then repainted, the previously white skin of the ornaments becoming instead decidedly blacker. In so doing, Forbes, at a (brush) stroke, (re) created an historical Black presence and created a series of poignant and arresting narratives arising out of absence and presence. The new figurines were then displayed on shelves and within cabinets, in the gallery space.

Michael Forbes’ work was included in the group exhibition The Meaning of Style: Black British Style, and the underlying political and social environment. (New Art Exchange, 16 January - 10 April 2010). He was one of the artists in Diaspora Pavilion | Venice to Wolverhampton, “a re-staging of a selection of works previously shown in the exhibition Diaspora Pavilion that took place in Venice during the the 57th Venice Biennale last year. The works shown here are by seven of the 19 artists who were part of the Venice show, all of who were selected due to the variety of ways that their practices engage with diaspora as a concept.

The Diaspora Pavilion grew out of a desire to provide a space for artists to pose counter-narratives that interrogate the notion of diaspora and a topical interest in the impact of increased global mobility, displacement and migration on culture. The idea of diaspora here functions as a tool with which to explore how artistic practice has been influenced by cross-cultural exchange.

… For the Diaspora Pavilion Michael Forbes has produced a new series of sculptures and paintings exhibited here for the first time. These works, like the series shown in Venice, bring together historical artefacts and contemporary objects as a means of commenting on processes of valuation and collecting in connection to urgent issues of the moment.

Curated by David A. Bailey and Jessica Taylor”

The above text is from the brochure accompanying the exhibition, which took place at Wolverhampton Art Gallery, 10 February - 29 April 2018.

The brochure summarised Forbes as being “an artist and curator. He was involved with the early stage development works for the New Art Exchange, Nottingham (1999-2010) and is a board member and chair of PRIMARY (trading as Nottingham Studios). Forbes has curated many exhibitions including work at the Bonnington (sic) Gallery, Primary and Yard Gallery in Nottingham. In 2010 Forbes co-curated a pop-up presentation in the Nottingham Exchange Building and has delivered eight major exhibitions at the Art Exchange and New Art Exchange over a number of years. In 2011, with Arts Council England support, Forbes undertook a twelve-month residency and development project at the International Studio and Curatorial Program in New York, leading to exhibitions and other professional development opportunities in the city and elsewhere.”



Related items

click to show details of Diaspora Pavilion | Venice to Wolverhampton brochure

»  Diaspora Pavilion | Venice to Wolverhampton brochure

Brochure relating to an exhibition, 2018

click to show details of Next We Change Earth

»  Next We Change Earth

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 2008

click to show details of There is No Redemption/Origin of End

»  There is No Redemption/Origin of End

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 2002

Related exhibitions

»  Next We Change Earth

Group show at New Art Exchange. 2008

Related venues

»  Art Exchange Gallery / New Art Exchange

Nottingham, United Kingdom

»  City Gallery Leicester

Leicester, United Kingdom

»  Wolverhampton Art Gallery

Wolverhampton, United Kingdom