Black Artists and the Fetishisation of the 1980s 2021 Octavia Elfrida Saunders Memorial Lecture: Professor Eddie Chambers, University of Texas at Austin

Black Artists and the Fetishisation of the 1980s

Over the course of the past decade and a half, there has been an acceleration of what Professor Eddie Chambers describes as the fetishisation of the 1980s. It is a decade that has come to be closely associated with a limited number of Black British artists whose work came to prominence in what has been dubbed the ‘Critical Decade’.

But while some artists have prospered through an acceleration of the 1980s remembering of their work, others, who similarly emerged into visibility during the same broad period, are accorded no place in these revisionist narratives. What are the consequences and implications of the persistent advancement of arguably partial scholarship and curatorial attention? If ‘context’ within art history is all-important, what are we to make of scholarship and curatorial framings in which the 1980s exists as a sole context? To what extent might we speculate on wider lessons that might be learned within art history?

Eddie Chambers was born in Wolverhampton, England. He gained his PhD from Goldsmiths College, University of London in 1998, for his study of press and other responses to the work of a new generation of Black artists in Britain, active during the 1980s. Following periods of teaching at Emory University, Atlanta, he joined the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Texas at Austin in January 2010 where he is now a Professor, teaching classes and seminars relating to art history of the African Diaspora.

Professor Chambers has guest-edited several issues of journals, namely Critical InterventionsNKA Journal of Contemporary African Art (two issues), and the International review of African American Art. His peer review texts have appeared in journals such as Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of CriticismSlavery & Abolition: A Journal of Slave and Post-Slave Studies, and Visual Culture in Britain. His books include Things Done Change: The Cultural Politics of Recent Black Artists in Britain (Rodopi Editions, Amsterdam and New York, 2012), Black Artists in British Art: A History Since the 1950s (I. B. Tauris, London and New York, 2014, reissued 2015), and Roots & Culture: Cultural Politics in the Making of Black Britain (I. B. Tauris/Bloomsbury, 2017).

He is the editor of the recently-published 40-essay volume, the Routledge Companion to African American Art History and his new book, World is Africa: Writings on Diaspora Art (Bloomsbury, London and New York, 2021), brings together a range of texts written over the past two decades.

Professor Chambers’ lecture will be introduced by Dr Katie Eagleton, Director of Libraries and Museums at St Andrews.

The 2021 Saunders Lecture will be taking place on Microsoft Teams and will be joinable at 6.30pm on 3 February using the link below.

Image credit: Denzil Forrester, Funeral of Winston Rose, oil on canvas, 1982, c. 214 x 274 cm. Used with kind permission of © Denzil Forrester.

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