Brixton Artists Collective

I then determined to focus on producing more conventional artworks of my own. As an outlet for this activity I joined the Brixton Artists Collective which had just taken over a carpet shop in Atlantic Road, Brixton in June 1983. The three arches were spacious if a little damp. They allowed huge shows to take place which were decided by an open collective of 20 to 50 people. The only membership requirement was that you should simply turn up. Later a voluntary administrator, Andrew Hurman with the help of a committed core of directors, brought some stability to the place for a few more years. Membership cost a concessionary rate of £2 per year. The range of shows that was possible due to the energy of a large collective was extraordinary. There were open themed shows like the '1984 Show' as well as shows made by groups with a shared identity.[1]

By October 1983, over 200 artists had the opportunity to show their work. By 1985 the membership had increased to nearly 100. By 1986 it had increased to nearly 200. (Dupre 1999)[2]

In June 1985 I initiated 'Roadworks' which was 'ten artists working in public for ten days, documenting the work back in the gallery on a daily basis' (Szczelkun, 1987 p9). One of the artists in Roadworks was Mona Hatoum, another was Rasheed Araeen. Both of these, now eminent figures in the art world, had other shows at BAG.

Whole ÚmigrÚ communities had shows. The most memorable of these was the South African artist community's show in January 1986:

Hazel Carey, one of the forces behind the cultural event, expresses amazement at the 'magnetic' effect that the Exhibition /performances seemed to have on visitors. 'The sound of music - of things happening - drew children and shoppers off the street'. (BAG Newsletter Spring 1986)[3]

The South African community had few of the boundaries between artforms that exist in the British contemporary culture. The Art show included music, dancing and food - their culture was still integrated with life and this made an strong impression on all those who became involved.

Teri Bullen arranged the Soweto Sisters 'Patchwork of Our Lives' show in May 1986. Incredibly, she got funding for all the women to come over from Africa to attend the opening in person.

A women's group had formed as soon as the gallery started in the summer of 1983 putting on its first show at the end of November that year. The group put on annual shows which included more than a hundred women. After the second year they self-published a book recording their work.[4] A separate Black Women artists group called 'Mirror Reflecting Darkly' had formed in 1984 and had their first show June - July 1985.

The Brixton Art Gallery supported many hundreds of artists and made their art accessible to the shoppers of Brixton. In 1987 the Gallery closed down due to pressure from the landlord British Rail to put up the rent; the demise of the GLC; and a lack of will in the funding organisations. The BAG revived for a while in 1988 in 'Bon March', 444 Brixton Road, and in 1990 moved to its current location in Brixton Station Road. It has not been an open collective since 1990. As far as I know there is no comprehensive history of this period of the collective in print.



[1] The collective had clear equal opportunity policies. 50% of the exhibitions were to be organised by Black artists and racist, sexist or homophobic work was spurned.


[2] Francoise Dupre gave a paper entitled 'Brixton Artist's Collective' at the Creative Chaos Conference, which was held at the Museum of London, October 1997. Quoted courtesy of Francoise.


[3] A collection of the BAG Newsletters (A5 photocopied), which were fairly consistently produced every month or so, are held at the Tate Gallery Library.


[4] Women's Work: two years in the life of a women artists group, Brixton, 1986.