Brixton Calling! project (2011) was an archiving and community project that connected contemporary Brixton to its past - through the history of the late Brixton Art Gallery & Artists Collective in the 1980s.
This cross-generational project was a collaboration between Brixton Artists Collective Archive group (BACA: Teri Bullen, Guy Burch, Françoise Dupré, Rita Keegan, Stefan Szczelkun) and 198 Contemporary Arts and Learning. Five Archives Installations and seven Community Archiving and Engagement projects were realised and brought together in an exhibition at 198 Contemporary Arts and Learning (October-December 2011).
This film came out of the Oral Histories Community Archiving and Engagement project . It was produced by young people, based at 198 Contemporary Arts and Learning with 198 Youth Director Kareen Williams.
It was directed by Andy Martinez and designed by Stefan Szczelkun.
Brixton Calling! was funded by Arts Council England, Heritage Lottery Fund and developed in partnership with Tate Britain; Tate Archive; Women’s Art Library (Goldsmiths, University of London); Lambeth Archive; Institute for Modern Contemporary Culture (University of Westminster).
Ephemera and records gathered during the project have been passed to Tate, Women's Art Library, Goldsmiths Library; Lambeth Archives, and Hall Carpenter Archive (LSE).
Brixton Artist Collective was based at a gallery in three railway arches below Brixton Station in the early 1980s. Between 1983 and 1986, Brixton Art Gallery, directly fronting Atlantic Road, a busy shopping street, held 50 exhibitions with almost 1000 participating artists. A pioneer of the true spirit of the now much maligned
multiculturalism it welcomed every kind of artist, from the most diverse of race, sex, sexuality and ability, showing anything from installation to painting. In the words of Tate's archivist Adrian Glew it “tapped into the socio-political zeitgeist from the 1980s onwards, bringing disparate communities together who otherwise would have little or no contact”.
Today we take for granted inclusion in the arts but at the start of the Thatcher versus the GLC era, the picture was very different. A truly multicultural space, which positively discriminated in favor of those without a voice, it held pioneering shows in every medium and theme. It offered opportunities to artists, who were elsewhere
excluded from exhibiting because of the content of their work, their race, gender and sexuality. Exhibitions crossing over the boundaries between crafts and fine art and exhibitions supporting many political campaigns of the 80s contributed to and engaged with debates about the nature, location and production of art.
Before Chris Ofilli was bought by major collectors it held important shows of black artists. Before Robert Mapplethorpe shocked with his gay themed photographs it held the first national open Lesbian & Gay art exhibitions. Before Grayson Perry made provocative pots and textiles Brixton was showing radical examples in both mediums.
The Gallery is the first entry in the CV's of three Turner Prize nominees (Mona Hartoum, Cathy de Monchaux and Zarina Bhimji) and gave now respected curators, from Sunil Gupta to Lubida Hamid, their first opportunities to present ideas. Before Banksy lifted a spay can it invited outrage when it allowed local street artists to attack
its walls and Sex Pistol artist Jamie Reid to walk away with one.
But the Gallery was not about art market bling, but real community engagement and that is reflected in the exhibition. The culmination of a years activities it consists of BACA's five Archive Installations and seven Community Archiving and Engagement projects. Bringing together artists and community groups who have used a collaborative and participatory approach, to re-invigorate both past and present. The exhibition includes a range of Brixton Art Gallery's ephemera:
Exhibition posters, original catalogues and videos along with a model of the space. In Brixton Calling! new artworks engage with Brixton today, with the lives and aspirations of its communities. Conceived as visual dialogues between Brixton in the 80s and today's changing ideas about identity, work, culture and migration, the echoes of riots and cuts, big business versus ordinary people, make for a fascinating show. It emphasises the need for artists and communities to understand and celebrate their recent history and artistic legacy. Both Galleries, the Then and Now spaces, through exhibition programmes and community participatory events, made and are still making a radical contribution to Brixton, London and the British cultural landscape. The 'Big Society' in action, they provided contexts for dialogues, debates, and engagement between a broad range of individuals and communities.
The Exhibition is accompanied by a brochure and DVD available from the gallery.