“The Burial and Unburial of Women”: Thin Black Line(s) and Tracing “Moments and Connections” in Black British Women’s Art Histories

Celeste-Marie Bernier

Abstract


As an artist who refuses categorically to shy away from both the “history of slavery” and the “contemporary grievances” arising from a white-dominated British art world, Lubaina Himid created a curatorial tour de force with her Thin Black Line(s) exhibition, on display at Tate Britain in 2011–2012. She adopted an array of signifying practices designed to riff off, reclaim, and revise the ideological biases and racialized blind spots of the Tate as a national institution. Himid’s long history of exhibiting Black British women’s work reflects her determination to fight against their “collective invisibility in the art world” as they “engaged with the social, cultural, political and aesthetic issues of the time” by undertaking a “conceptual reframing of the image of black and Asian women themselves.” Working with the spatial constraints of just one room in which to exhibit a decades-long history of Black British women artists and art making, Himid also had to rely upon numerous strategies to confront the obstacles presented by the Tate’s decision to mount Thin Black Line(s) not as a full-scale exhibition but as an “in-focus display.” This meant that it was not given as extensive a budget or as large an exhibition space as the Tate exhibitions appearing as part of their regular programming, and also not accorded the same levels of marketing, advertising, and scholarly attention. Himid set about solving these problems by engaging in diverse extra-curatorial practices and also by contesting and critiquing these limitations within the space itself. Himid’s self-reflexive strategies became a form of “guerrilla curating” as she engaged in a multitude of methods designed to critique, interrogate, and displace—if not outright reject—the challenges presented by the ideologically confining and tokenizing framing of the Tate as an exhibition space.


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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15367/kf.v2i2.66

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