Issue #141 Precarious Solidarities: Artists for Democracy in Historical Perspective, Part 2

Precarious Solidarities: Artists for Democracy in Historical Perspective, Part 2

David Morris

Cecilia Vicuña and her works from the exhibition “Homenaje a Vietnam” (Homage to Vietnam) during a workshop with children, Bogotá, Colombia, 1977. Courtesy Cecilia Vicuña Studio.

Issue #141
December 2023

Continued from Part 1

The “American Indian Movement 1976 Exhibition” approached material-cultural support by producing a show directly with the liberation movement in question. Organized by Artists for Democracy (AFD) and the UK committee of the American Indian Movement (AIM), it was staged in part to protest “Sacred Circles: Two Thousand Years of North American Indian Art” at the Hayward Gallery in London, and the United States Bicentennial marking the signing of the Declaration of Independence. As AIM highlighted, this also marked two-hundred years of Indigenous resistance to US land theft and settler colonialism. Originally planned to last around six weeks between September and October 1976, the show was extended into January 1977, making it the longest-running exhibition at the Whitfield Street space. The show, which is often mentioned in retrospective accounts of AFD, received significant local press attention at the time, including in The Times, Evening Standard, and Studio International. Indeed, people travelled long distances to see it.1 Yet documentation of the exhibition—and on AIM UK itself—remains scarce. Said to be “small but eloquent” by one reviewer, it consisted of photographs, protest leaflets, drawings, and posters, as well as a large-scale reproduction of a graphic showing an Indigenous American imprisoned within the stripes of the US flag.2 In the image, the figure’s hand rests upon on a pipe tomahawk emerging through bars—an ambiguous symbol of diplomacy in the encounter between Europeans and Indigenous peoples.3

These were critical years in the project of Indigenous internationalism. As Nick Estes recounts in Our History Is the Future (2019), the summer of 1977 saw a delegation of 120 led by Indigenous elders from the Six Nations, the Oceti Sakowin Nation, the Hopi, Panama, Guatemala, the Amazon, Mexico, and Chile march through Geneva for a historic gathering at the United Nations to establish formal recognition for Indigenous peoples. This occasion was built on a long tradition of radical organizing, with roots in the Red Power movement in the early 1960s as well as many earlier articulations of an Indigenous internationalist agenda.4 The American Indian Movement, founded in 1968, was a successor to these. AIM’s occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973, which followed actions such as the Trail of Broken Treaties (1972) and the occupation of Alcatraz (1969), saw the organization’s leaders arrested and subjected to legal processes that took momentum from the movement.5 In the context of this, and of wider attacks from US counterintelligence on domestic radical movements, AIM established the International Indian Treaty Council in 1974 as a platform to advance the cause of Indigenous peoples worldwide.6 The transnational connections and the regional AIM offices consequently established found significant support in the socialist bloc in particular.7

In this context of Indigenous internationalism, the UK committee of AIM formed to join together the AIM Support Committee, based in Birmingham, and the AIM Support Group, in Derbyshire. Headquartered in the Northfield area of Birmingham and headed by Terry Lewis, the group found common cause with the colonized nations of the British Isles: they strengthened links with the independence parties Plaid Cymru (Wales) and Sinn Fein (Ireland), meeting up on tours with AIM activists from the US such as Madonna Thunder Hawk.8 During one such tour, AIM representatives came to AFD’s squat at 143 Whitfield Street (in the company of Jane Fonda, according to one AFD member living there at the time). An announcement calling for donations to support the “American Indian Movement 1976 Exhibition” gives details of its scope: to “show the true situation in the United States today, of the struggle by the American Indian Movement / Native American Nations for sovereignty and self-determination,” as well as “the spirit of the American Indian People, still alive today despite everything, still following the true Indian Way and still producing beautiful poetry and artwork.”9 The exhibition gathered photographic documentation (posters, poetry, artworks, and graphics on AIM) and was intended to tour across Britain.

What are we to make of this singular exhibition today? The contemporary art market has turned towards Indigenous art and thought in recent years, as reflected in many shows, publications, and art initiatives. As Candice Hopkins observes, such “discovery” of Indigenous ideas often indexes a moment when Western cultures and ideologies are in crisis; in times of environmental collapse, Indigenous knowledge is turned to, again and again, for possible solutions.10

The AIM exhibition does not coincide with a broader interest in Indigenous art in the mid-1970s; it emerges from an understanding of the politics of culture, of the forms of imperialism that may be conducted in the name of art, and of exhibition-making as part of a critical battleground. The AIM initiative also demonstrates how exhibitions may speak to one another. In this case, it functioned to expand the context for the larger “Sacred Circles” show, and offered a critical intervention into its interpretation and understanding. This may be seen in the fact that the press reaction to “Sacred Circles” broadly followed the critique advanced by the AIM show, and as such the exhibition operated as critical counterpoint—a “more urgent and committed revelation of the state of the American Indians today.”11 For instance, writing in The Times, Richard Cork used the AIM show in his opening paragraphs to introduce the problematics of “Sacred Circles,” including the framing of Indigenous life and history as something of the past, and complicating, to some extent, the settler narrative; Paul Overy, in the Evening Standard, concluded that “Sacred Circles” reflected the “desire to enclose Indian culture inside the white man’s notion of art”; and in Studio International, Susan Hiller offered a comprehensive analysis of the exhibition as a document of the sustained destruction of Indigenous cultures. In particular, Hiller implicated the exhibition strategies of “Sacred Circles” in this process: how its display, framing, and contextualization advanced a European-American colonial viewpoint while also insisting on this as a natural and neutral position, “using ‘art’ to cover up some historical truths … voiding symbols of their complexity by eliminating their context; [and] valuing art objects more than societies.”12

What comes across in these texts is a remarkable consensus forming around “Sacred Circles,” with AIM’s “small but eloquent” exhibition providing the critical context to understanding. It steered its visitors in this direction and produced an intervention into mainstream discourse on Indigenous art—a rare opportunity given British culture’s characteristic occlusion of its imperial legacies. It is curious, perhaps, that in these reviews the AIM show features in a largely instrumental way—to register a point of reference for the reviewer’s critique—and so it is treated only cursorily as an exhibition in its own right. Its presentation of a political imaginary of its own (“the spirit of the American Indian People”) at this crucial moment of Indigenous internationalism for the movement is a history still to be told.


As discussed in part 1 of this essay, AFD’s “broad front” was artistic as much as it was political, aimed at including “the entire spectrum of artistic expression and production in the world, traditional and new, with the distinct emphasis on the new, i.e., the experimental.”13 There, I offered concrete examples of how AFD offered material-cultural support to global, internationalist liberation struggles, but this agenda is inseparable from a parallel commitment to evolving experimental and collective cultural forms through which to enact said support—from an aesthetics, in other words. The dynamic relationship between these twin aims might be understood in terms of what one AFD participant later described as the “seeds of a new popular culture”: “Artistic ideas are in the air, and ripe for use. Nor is it a question of putting art first, as a kind of prime mover … The really significant fact is the relationship between the people, the event, and the means of expression.”14 If this essay’s previous sections have addressed AFD’s relationship to “the people,” and to its historical moment, I now turn to its means of expression.

As a group of cultural workers, AFD occupied various roles through an artist-led sensibility: the curatorial/organizational function was informally shared, where “solo” presentations were directed by the artists themselves, and group shows collectively assembled into ad-hoc installation environments, often without any clear sense of authorship. Sometimes its presentation strategies were borrowed from elsewhere, for instance the Chile Festival’s planned inclusion of “wall newspapers” familiar from various socialist contexts: one contextualizing the situation in Chile, one for visitors to leave criticisms and comments in response to the exhibition, and one containing messages of solidarity for the Chilean people (including translations “in all the languages of the world” of excerpts from Allende’s final statement and a Neruda poem—translations that were solicited by post). There was often a pedagogical agenda: several participants were in formal education at the time, as students or teachers, and AFD offered space for many more informal kinds of learning, research, and “mutual apprenticeship.”15

Poster for “People of the World Learn from Indochina: Homage to Ho Chi Minh and the Victory of the Indochinese Peoples” arts festival, 1975. Poster design: Lynn MacRitchie/David Turner. Courtesy Lynn MacRitchie.

AFD’s later exhibitions continued to develop an understanding of exhibition-making as a didactic and pedagogical tool. Exhibitions could include a surfeit of information, giving context to the “message” the show aimed to deliver (supplemented by lectures, screenings, and workshops with children, as mentioned in Part 1), but these didactics could come in idiosyncratic forms—a far distance from the sober museological and/or assertive agitprop modes of presentation that might be expected from such projects. At the festival for Vietnam, historical background was blockily hand-drafted, mirroring the show’s ramshackle DIY environments; in a photograph taken at Whitfield Street, David Medalla is seen narrating from a handwritten sequence of key dates from Chinese revolutionary history, on a scroll so long that it extends through a trapdoor and into the space below; notice boards and reading spaces were set up at various times to which visitors could add their own contributions; and theses were often elaborated through semi-improvised performances and dance-dramas. One exhibition plan captures the general approach: “Our exhibition, if we do decide to bring it about, will have mainly a didactic character. At the same time, we can evolve many different experimental ways of presentation.”16

A 1975 investigation into the agricultural bases of social organization, presented at AFD’s Whitfield Street space, is another example. Its thesis unfolded via two interrelated exhibitions, by Lynn MacRitchie and Guy Brett. MacRitchie’s “The World in a Grain of Sand” occupied the main part of the space as a complex participatory environment constructed out of various found materials, including clippings from the Financial Times, dishes of water, and germinating seeds. Flanked by images of grain production in China, India, and Russia, alongside images of bread and bread-making, visitors were invited to explore the material bases of industrialized food and image consumption. The work is remarkably contemporary, but its intent to convey a specific message, and the analytical clarity of that message, sets it apart from more recent comparable examples: “People will be encouraged to sift through the symbolic grain where they will find quotations, poems and statements illustrating the fact that it is the labour of the people which produces the grain which is the basis of the food we eat.”17 Brett’s small complementary presentation “Fruits of the Earth in Decorative Art” developed the speculation that decorative art came into existence with the invention of agriculture by making visual connections between pattern, repetition, and agricultural labor: “The little metal ribbons of electric circuitry echo the branches in a Persian carpet which echo the conduits of irrigation: a lively energy flows through each.”18 Considered from the context of today’s global food crisis, MacRitchie’s and Brett’s critical investigations of the nexus of art, agriculture, and social life could not be more timely.19

Lynn MacRitchie, “The World in a Grain of Sand,” 143 Whitfield Street, London, 1975. Courtesy Lynn MacRitchie.

AFD’s experimental presentations of cultural-historical analysis and research—what we may term experimental didactics—anticipated more recent exhibition projects such as “Past Disquiet,” and research-led approaches in exhibition-making such as “the project exhibition,” the “thesis exhibition,” and the “self-reflexive exhibition format” or “essay exhibition.”20 We might also project a lineage back to the radical approaches that evolved at different moments of social-political upheaval. Museology of the early Soviet era evolved various experiments in this regard: dialectical-materialist analysis of historical narratives or the daily news; exhibitions of contemporary industrial processes, or advancing religious and philosophical ideas (such as the cosmism of Nikolai Fedorov); and “itinerant exhibitions” designed to travel on mobile “agit-trains.”21 The latter—as well as “popular museums” of the Second Spanish Republic—provided inspiration for the mobile exhibitions of Allende-era Chile, such as “El Tren Popular de la Cultura” (The popular culture train), which brought “high culture” to people living in remote localities. These precedents suggest an alternative lineage of exhibition-making, with emphasis on the exhibition as a tool of collective research, popular education, political engagement, and critique of prevailing ideologies.22

Also significant is the primary form AFD chose to advance its agenda: the festival. Festivals have a lineage in left-wing cultural politics, deploying a repertoire of coming together that includes artistic activities alongside gathering, discussion, and debate.23 Certain features of festivals deserve particular attention here: (1) multiple arts rather than art in the singular; (2) performativity; (3) artist-to-artist contact and an absence of curatorial authority (“if you wanted to take part, you came along”24); (4) connection to the everyday; (5) modes of conviviality, celebration, hospitality, and joy; (6) processionality, related to process, procession, and a coexistence of temporalities and worlds.25 AFD’s installational environments anticipated Raymundo Albano’s equation of Philippine fiesta displays and contemporary installation art some years later.26 AFD’s Chile Festival, for instance, included two large-scale environments, the “campamento Nueva Havana” and “campamento La Luega of Santiago de Chile,” which played host to much activity during the festival and were modelled on autonomous centers “set up by people all over Chile where they democratically evolved new ways of doing things socially, politically and culturally.”27

David Medalla (center) and others at “Arts Festival for Democracy in Chile,” Royal College of Art, October 1974. Courtesy Jun Terra.

Unlike the Exploding Galaxy’s psychedelic commune at 99 Balls Pond Road in London, AFD’s experiment-in-living was open to the public. The makeshift residence and “cultural centre” at Whitfield Street hosted a succession of guests alongside its public programs—visiting artists, friends, lovers, local children, stray cats—and in later years became increasingly improvised through ever-changing displays and happenings, evolving into a kind of continuous performance, “a rolling sequence that did not really separate out into distinct exhibitions.”28 One of these was a brief improvisation titled Sweeping Gestures by two performers of different generations: Charles Hustwick, a young artist finding his way in London; and Trevor Thomas, a prominent figure in the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE), a distinguished curator and the father of AFD artist Giles Thomas.29 Although AFD was not affiliated with organizations such as CHE or the Gay Liberation Front, it resonates with kindred initiatives in queer exhibition-making and institution-building in a number of ways; for many of its number, Whitfield Street performed vital functions as community and stage for artistic-and-otherwise manifestations of queer life.30 Hustwick recalls:

We didn’t really think of it in these terms, but AFD was a queer space, at least to me—and I know through experience, to many others too. That needs to be put into a context that the people coming to AFD manifestations, events, exhibitions, whatever, were taken from a much wider demographic of age, gender, and diversity. People were drawn in from surrounding shops and service providers as well as varied occupational groups, visiting political and socio/political/artworld groups and practicing artists and speakers … I became fascinated by the conversations, the discussions, the laughter, the satire, the wit, the constant talk of artists and where “art history” was in the present tense. It was more the fact that David and friends (Jun Terra and Virgil Calaguian) lived a life of freedom, of freedoms many globally could not live. AFD never consciously aligned itself to the many sectional groups emerging in these years such as the Gay Liberation Front, the CHE, or even the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. But the background was a London ten years on from the passing of the laws which decriminalised homosexuality between adults over 21. This liberalization still had a way to go to remove further inequalities—the position of the Isle of Man, the age of consent, civil partnership, and so forth still not yet recognized.31

AFD’s commitment to the experimental took many forms. In artistic terms, it formed an uneasy alliance with various “traditional,” “folk,” or “popular” forms. This can be understood as a pragmatic extension of AFD’s “broad front” politics, to be as inclusive as possible with respect to artists and audiences, but it can be also understood in terms of aesthetic strategy. Some context for this may be given by the critical confrontation between Naseem Khan’s 1976 report The Arts Britain Ignores: The Arts of Ethnic Minorities in Britain and Rahseed Araeen’s vehement critique of it. Khan’s report highlighted a systematic lack of state support in Britain for artists and communities categorized as “minority ethnic,” meaning, largely but not exclusively, those with heritage in nations colonized by Britain.32 Araeen’s critique charged that the report simply reinforced a set of crude colonial assumptions about art, where “advanced,” “avant-garde” art is the preserve of white European-Americans, as opposed to the “traditional” culture and/or arts (plural) of the colonized world.

As a Black avant-gardist, Araeen clearly rejected this.33 Yet in many respects, his critique of Khan upholds the modernist line of “advanced” versus “traditional” art—a line that becomes much blurrier in AFD’s incorporation of a range of creative practices, including artisanal “handicrafts” (as featured in the Chile exhibition), “traditional” woodblock prints (in “China Show”), and various performances of music, theater, poetry, and dance drawing from popular and classical traditions. Popular song was often rendered as performance-poetry, as in the lyrics to popular revolutionary songs read at the opening of the festival for Vietnam, or the words of Buffy Sainte-Marie read to inaugurate the AIM exhibition at Whitfield Street. And what emerges overall is a contradictory but nonetheless complex understanding of avant-garde and traditional arts as coextensive—or at least not mutually exclusive.

Retrospective accounts also emphasize “nonartistic” elements such as Araeen’s Sunday cooking sessions, the various contributions of beloved AFD elder Andrew “Pop” Kim, or the homeopathic experiments of Peter Fisher.34 Many such stories surround AFD: of creative practices not so obviously compatible with the common-sense understanding of what an artist is and does. For Araeen, the group’s “amateurism,” its failure to attract many “professional” artists, was a problem.35 But this was also part of its aesthetic. As one of their contemporaries observed: “AFD productions tend towards an informal style that oscillates from the embarrassingly amateur to stunning moments which usually benefit from an oriental sense of pace and timing.”36 And if AFD’s enthusiasms contain notes of exoticism, this is by no means limited to those cultures “other” to Britain; for instance, in the context of his 1977 installation Eskimo Carver at AFD, David Medalla enthused about the Derbyshire tradition of “well dressing,” where public sources of water such as wells are decoratively adorned.37 Other times, AFD’s position might appear more contradictory: in the ironically titled “Vernacular Art in Camden” (1977); in the rejection of so-called “poster-and-slogan art” by significant factions within the group; in certain tendencies towards the “creative genius” myth.

Geeta Kapur, speaking in Havana for the 1989 biennial there, talks about artists’ and intellectuals’ task “to bring existential urgency to questions of contemporaneity,” observing that “sufficiently historicised, either tradition or contemporaneity can notate a ‘radical’ purpose in the cultural politics of the Third World.”38 This connects AFD’s broad front with Araeen’s comments that open Part 1 of this essay. For Araeen, AFD’s “failure” was its inability to deal with cultural imperialism at the level of artistic form—its failure, ultimately, to express “what we are now.” If “the contemporary” is to be understood as the coexistence of different times in a disjunctive conjuncture, in which different social and historical times meet in the present’s non-unity, festive gatherings such as those organized by AFD may express the messy possibilities of shared presence in non-unity. And if we expand Araeen’s analysis from the focus on expression via individual artworks in the modernist sense, to what we might see as the total assemblage of the group, its potential to express “what we are today” increases: to articulate, again, relationships between the people, the event, and the means of expression, with an expansiveness of the “we” in “what we are today.” AFD’s articulation of such relationships was singular in its combination of different, often incompatible approaches to connect concrete and imagined political groupings and world-historical events in the context of anti-imperial struggle. The outcome was necessarily contradictory and unresolved.

So, I leave the question open as to whether, ultimately, AFD “succeeded” in its task. In Vicuña’s view, “the failure of the original AFD is its greatest beauty, as failure seeds the birthing of new forms.”39 However, as Vijay Prashad notes, it is unwise to think about the past in terms of success or failure.40 To do so is to make the mistaken assumption of a linear progression of history, which can lead to feelings of nostalgia and melancholic impasse, when in reality the course of events is anything but straight. AFD’s activities were most powerful within the energy of social movement—a fact that speaks to the inseparability of “art” and “politics,” as well as the necessity of directing artistic energies towards the kind of revolutionary “extra-artistic political force” that the present moment demands. How to do this, today, is still far from straightforward. Struggle proceeds in spirals and zigzags.41


“David Medalla in Conversation with Brandon Taylor,” Artscribe, no. 6 (1977): 23.


The image was originally a poster produced by Swedish artist Christer Themptander in 1970, titled We Will Never Forget Wounded Knee, and was featured in publications including the long-running Akwesasne Notes as well as The Black Panther. See Louise Siddons, “Red Power in the ‘Black Panther’: Radical Imagination and Intersectional Resistance at Wounded Knee,” American Art, Summer 2021, 17.


Siddons, “Red Power in the ‘Black Panther,’” 17.


Nick Estes, Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance (Verso Books, 2019), 265.


The occupation of Alcatraz, an island offshore from San Francisco and an abandoned federal prison, lasted nineteen-months and was initiated by a group describing themselves as “Indians of All Tribes.” Occupations at the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, DC and at Mount Rushmore would follow, before the seventy-one-day occupation of the town of Wounded Knee, the site of an 1890 mass killing of Indigenous peoples, where the occupiers declared themselves as part of the Independent Oglala Nation, a sovereign entity separate from the United States. See Paul Chaat Smith and Robert Allen Warrior, Like a Hurricane: The Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee (The New Press, 1997); and Estes, Our History Is the Future. In the wake of Wounded Knee, Fredda Shepherd, the main organizer of the AIM Support Group in Derbyshire and chairperson of AIM UK, made contact with AIM founders Dennis Banks and Russell Means, accompanying AIM on visits to Europe and acting as translator in Paris. Frank Shepherd, correspondence with the author, July 7, 2023.


Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, “How Indigenous Peoples Wound Up at the United Nations,” in The Hidden 1970s: Histories of Radicalism, ed. Dan Berger (Rutgers University Press, 2010).


György Ferenc Tóth, From Wounded Knee to Checkpoint Charlie: The Alliance for Sovereignty between American Indians and Central Europeans in the Late Cold War (SUNY Press, 2016).


Kate Rennard, “Becoming Indigenous: The Transnational Networks of the American Indian Movement, Irish Republicans, and Welsh Nationalists,” Native American and Indigenous Studies 8, no. 2 (Fall 2021).


Details remain sketchy on how the exhibition plan came together. There was a Brixton office of AIM that may have played a role; visits by AIM representatives were connected to the Geneva initiative, and Jimmie Durham, who was a key figure through the International Indian Treaty Council, visited London in 1976 (although the exhibition’s connection to Akwesasne Notes suggests that he was not involved). The AIM exhibition would subsequently travel to Sheffield. I am grateful to Maria Thereza Alves and Richard Hill for their comments on these points.


Candice Hopkins, quoted in Lucy R. Lippard, “Floating Between Past and Future: The Indigenisation of Environmental Politics,” Afterall, no. 43 (Spring–Summer 2017): 34.


Richard Cork, “The Indigenous Americans,” The Times, October 12, 1976.


Susan Hiller, “Sacred Circles: 2,000 Years of North American Indian Art,” Studio International 193, no. 985 (January–February 1977): 58.


“THE AIMS OF ARTISTS FOR DEMOCRACY, and some suggestions for our organisation, with proposals for immediate and long-range tasks,” November 26, 1974, Guy Brett collection, Tate Archive.


Guy Brett, Through Our Own Eyes: Popular Art and Modern History (Heretic Books, 1986), 153.


Cecilia Vicuña, “Organized Dreaming,” trans. Christopher Winks, in Artists for Democracy: El Archivo de Cecilia Vicuña (Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos/Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, 2013), unpaginated.




Lynn MacRitchie, “The World in a Grain of Sand,” undated handwritten notes shared with the author.


Guy Brett, “Agriculture, Field, Decoration,” in Carnival of Perception: Selected Writings on Art (Institute of International Visual Arts, 2004), 157.


See Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2023” . Economic and agricultural ecosystems provided the basis for one the most inspiring large-scale exhibition models in recent years, ruangrupa’s organization of Documenta 15 (2022), based on the principle of lumbung. And agrarian reform, land justice, and food security are core to the activities of Philippines cultural workers’ organization SAKA (Sama-samang Artista Para sa Kilusang Agraryo).


Past Disquiet: Artists, International Solidarity and Museums in Exile, ed. Kristine Khouri and Rasha Salti (Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, 2018); Marion von Osten, “Another Criterion … or, What Is the Attitude of a Work in the Relations of Production of Its Time?,” Afterall, no. 25 (Spring–Summer 2010); Manuel Borja-Villel, introduction to Really Useful Knowledge, ed. Mafalda Rodríguez et al., exhibition catalog (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, 2014), 6; Anselm Franke, “On Fichte’s Unlimiting and the Limits of Self-reflexive Institutions,” in Love and Ethnology: The Colonial Dialectic of Sensitivity (after Hubert Fichte) (Sternberg/HKW, 2019), 13; Simon Sheikh, “A Conceptual History of Exhibition-Making,” presentation at the first Former West congress, 2009 . I am grateful to Lucy Steeds for valuable insight on these points.


Avant-Garde Museology, ed. Arseny Zhilyaev (e-flux and University of Minnesota Press, 2015).


Maria Berríos, “‘Struggle as Culture’: The Museum of Solidarity, 1971–73,” Afterall, no. 44 (Autumn–Winter 2017).


We might also think of related forms such as the slogan, the speech, and the banner.


Lynn MacRitchie, conversation with the author, October 7, 2020.


I am grateful to David and Grace Samboh for conversations on the festival-exhibition continuum. See Artist-to-Artist: Independent Art Festivals in Chiang Mai 1992–98, ed. David Morris and David Teh (Afterall Books, 2018); and Morris and Grace Samboh, “ǝlɐuuǝᴉq sɐ ǝɯɐs ǝɥʇ ǝq ʇouuɐɔ lɐuᴉq: Might the Exhibition Be a Festival?,” PARSE 13, no. 3 (Autumn 2021) . On “procession,” see Tonika Sealy Thompson and Stefano Harney, “Ground Provisions,” Afterall, no. 45 (Spring–Summer 2018).


Raymundo Albano, “Installations: A Case for Hangings,” Philippine Art Supplement 2, no.1 (January–February 1981): 3.


Jun Terra, correspondence with the author, April 8, 2021. Among other activities, the campamentos hosted the Paddington Printshop and Terra’s Red Star Shadow Puppet Theatre workshops, based on the Indonesian shadow puppetry wayang kulit. The particular energy and symbolism of makeshift dwellings in urban contexts was something Guy Brett had elsewhere noted with reference to “Resurrection City, U.S.A.,” a large-scale temporary encampment built in 1968 on the National Mall in Washington, DC by the Poor People’s Campaign. See Brett, “Avant-Garde Art and the Third World,” in Art & Criticism: Proceedings of a Conference Held in London on 23rd and 24th April 1976, ed. Brandon Taylor (Winchester School of Art Press, 1979), 71.


Charles Hustwick, correspondence with the author, June 29, 2023.


Trevor Thomas was curator-director of the Leicester Museum and Art Gallery (1940–46) until his persecution and dismissal as a result of anti-homosexuality laws; he also had the distinction of being Britain’s youngest museum curator when he joined Liverpool Museum in 1931 at age twenty-three.


See, for instance, Queer Exhibition Histories, ed. Bas Hendrikx (Valiz, 2023).


Charles Hustwick, correspondence with the author, June 29, 2023.


Naseem Khan, The Arts Britain Ignores: The Arts of Ethnic Minorities in Britain (Commission for Racial Equality, 1976).


His point is that the distinction is not racially coded, as Khan’s report seemed to suggest. In a comparable critique of racialized aesthetic criteria, Araeen has argued for Jonathan Miles’s work with the Poster-Film Collective (shown at AFD’s Chile Festival and at “Victory for People’s War” at Whitfield Street) as a forerunner to the British Black Arts Movement of the 1980s: “Being a white artist, Miles also demolished the general notion that only blacks were involved in antiracist struggles or should produce such work.” Araeen, “A Very Special British Issue? Modernity, Art History and the Crisis of Art Today,” Third Text 22, no. 2 (March 2008): 136.


Kim was a retired policeman from Hong Kong and a regular presence at Whitfield Street; at the Chile Festival he would “perform rhythmic movements with illuminated Chinese clubs,” a technique he taught to others along with tai chi. Fisher, a doctor in training, was very close to Kim, and would test his homeopathic inventions on other members of the group; he later become the personal homeopathic physician to Queen Elizabeth II. Lynn MacRitchie, correspondence with the author, July 27, 2023.


Rahseed Araeen, correspondence with the author and Wing Chan, April 15, 2023.


Marc Camille Chaimowicz, “Performance,” Studio International 193, no. 985 (January–February 1977): 14.


David Medalla, interview by Steven Thorn, 1977, Guy Brett collection, Tate Archive.


Geeta Kapur, “Contemporary Cultural Practice: Some Polemical Categories,” in R. Weiss et al., Making Art Global (Part 1) (Afterall Books, 2011), 203.


Vicuña, “Organized Dreaming.”


Vijay Prashad, Struggle Makes us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism (Haymarket Books, 2022).


“THE AIMS OF ARTISTS FOR DEMOCRACY.” This is itself a paraphrase of Friedrich Engels, also often cited by Prashad in recent years. See, for instance, “History Often Proceeds by Jumps and Zig-Zags,” Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research Newsletter, no. 33 (August 15, 2019) .

Contemporary Art, Indigenous Issues & Indigeneity
Art Collectives, Postcolonialism, Revolution, United Kingdom
Return to Issue #141

This is an edited version of a text that is part of the publication Precarious Solidarities: Artists for Democracy 1974–77, published in 2023 by Afterall in association with Asia Art Archive; the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College; documenta Institut; and the Faculty of Fine, Applied and Performing Arts, University of Gothenburg.

David Morris is Research Fellow and Editor at Afterall Research Centre. His work explores different approaches to artistic research, education, and exhibition, with a focus on experimental and collective practice. His publications include Schizo-Culture: The Event, The Book (with Sylvère Lotringer; Semiotext(e)/The MIT Press, 2014); Artist-to-Artist: Independent Art Festivals in Chiang Mai 1992–98 (with David Teh; Afterall Books, 2018); and Art and Its Worlds: Exhibitions, Institutions and Art Becoming Public (with Bo Choy, Charles Esche, and Lucy Steeds; Afterall Books, 2021). With Helena Vilalta he leads a research master’s program in Exhibition Studies at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, where he is also a trade union organizer.


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