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The Thin Black Line

Group show at Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA). 1985 - 1986
Date: 15 November, 1985 until 26 January, 1986
Curator: Lubaina Himid

Group exhibition featuring 11 Black female artists - their work primarily displayed in the concourse area of the ICA, hence the title The Thin Black Line. Curated by Lubaina Himid (who also featured). Reviewed in the (mainly) mainstream white press as ‘angry’ the exhibition attempted to present a multiplicity of experiences through a variety of mediums, bringing together a survey of Black womens’ creativity at that time.

From the foreword to exhibition’s catalogue, written by Lubaina Himid: “All eleven artists in this exhibition are concerned with the politics and realities of being Black Women. We will debate upon how and why we differ in our creative expression of these realities. Our methods vary individually from satire to storytelling, from timely vengeance to careful analysis, from calls to arms to the smashing of stereotypes. We are claiming what is ours and making ourselves visible. We are eleven of the hundreds of creative Black Women in Britain. We are here to stay.”

A year and a half after The Thin Black Line took place, Keith Piper’s Foreword in the catalogue accompanying The Image Employed: the use of narrative in Black art. [Curated by Keith Piper and Marlene Smith, Cornerhouse, Manchester, 13 June - 19 July 1987] was constructed around an invaluable critical reading of the recent history of Black artists’ exhibitions in the United Kingdom. Piper provided the reader with a potted history of the emergence of Black British artists and their piecemeal, halting engagement with mainstream galleries. In this regard, Piper referenced exhibitions such as The Thin Black Line.

Piper referred to The Thin Black Line as being an altogether more successful undertaking than an exhibition such as From Two Worlds, which Piper regarded as “an insensitive lumping together of a hotch-potch of art objects apparently linked only by the ‘non-European-ness’ of their makers.” [There was though, no record of Piper having voiced these sceptical sentiments before his inclusion in From Two Worlds].

Of The Thin Black Line, Piper wrote, “More successful in this regard have been shows such as ‘The Thin Black Line‘. ICA, 1985. Here, by virtue of the familiarity of the selector with the interests and working concerns of her contemporaries, contextualising themes could be constructed which sat close to the heart of commonly held concerns.”

Related items

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Review relating to an exhibition, 1985

click to show details of Hemmed In (The Thin Black Line)

»  Hemmed In (The Thin Black Line)

Review relating to an exhibition, 1986

click to show details of Thin Black Line

»  Thin Black Line

Article relating to an exhibition, 1985

click to show details of The Thin Black Line - City Limits

»  The Thin Black Line - City Limits

Review relating to an exhibition, 1985

click to show details of The Thin Black Line ICA catalogue 1985

»  The Thin Black Line ICA catalogue 1985

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1985

People in this exhibition + view all 11

»  Sutapa Biswas

Born, 1962 in Bolpur, India

»  Sonia Boyce MBE OBE RA

Born, 1962 in London, England

»  Chila Kumari Singh Burman

Born, 1958 in Liverpool, England

»  Lubaina Himid MBE, CBE

Born, 1954 in Zanzibar, Tanzania

»  Marlene Smith

Born, 1964 in Birmingham, England

Exhibition venues

»  Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA)

London, United Kingdom