Black artists, Modernism and visual resources: a new research project at University of the Arts London (UAL)

Black Artists and Modernism (BAM) is an exciting and ground breaking research project which will have implications for visual resource discovery and the history of British art. Headed up by UAL in partnership with Middlesex University and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the project aims to re-write art history by illuminating the artwork and practices of black artists working in the UK and how their work relates to British Modernism.

Artists of African and Asian descent have been making art in the UK at least since the early twentieth century. However, despite this longstanding situation, a problem exists where art criticism continues to serve the art-works of these artists inadequately. A peculiar kind of eclipsing has taken place where instead of considering and talking directly about the work, the discussions have emphasised the ethnicity of the artist, and the general problematics of race and identity politics within the art establishment, thus deflecting attention away from how these art-works relate to or have influenced the story of twentieth century art. (Research Councils UK, 2016)

The project aims to reach as wide an audience as possible, from students, academics and curators to members of the public. To this end, the team will also create a database of all works by black artists held in UK public collections, which will link to the BBC Your Paintings website. This will be an interesting development in the story of this excellent free resource, in which an existing resource can be built upon in order to aid transformative new research. This kind of cross-referencing is important for signposting narratives that may be present within collections but yet remain hidden, an example of how cataloguing projects can advance our understanding of history.

For further information about the project see the interview below with Artist and Co-Chair of Black Art and Design at the University of the Arts London Sonia Boyce:

The project is due to be completed in 2018 with the publication of an edited book ‘The Blackness of Modernism: reconsidering art-works, exhibitions and collecting the work of Black-British artists’ to be published by Duke University Press.


Research Councils UK (2016). “BAM – Black Artists and Modernism”. Accessed February 29, 2016.

May Warren, Central Saint Martins (UAL)