A Room Next to Mine

Marlene Smith
A3 Project Space, 2013

I worked with Marlene Smith to develop a series of three study days, each one focusing on the work of one artist.

The events offered the opportunity to see and discuss what the artists have been making, understand what has influenced their work and consider where it fits in today’s arts landscape.

The artists Amanda Holiday, Barbara Walker and Claudette Johnson share common ground - they have all been working for more than ten years, use portraiture and drawing extensively in their work and have been influenced by or involved in the UK ‘black arts movement’ of the 1980s.

Amanda Holiday, Barbara Walker and Claudette Johnson all use figuration and portraiture in their work. Each of them has been making work for well over a decade and each has a very particular use of and commitment to, drawing. I worked with both Amanda and Claudette in the 80s and 90s have exhibited alongside them and shown their work. I first came across Barbara Walker when I moved back to Birmingham from London in 2001.

The aim of each day and of the programme overall, is to bring critical attention to this work. In this, I have been mindful that in 2013 there is a still prevalent tendency when discussing the work of black artists, to focus on the socio-political rather than art-historical aspects of their practice. These study days are an opportunity for a small group of artists, curators, educators, historians and activists to discuss the work, how it is made and in doing so, how it relates to art that precedes it and where it fits with contemporary practice. Each of the participating artists has agreed to be the subject of one study day (allowing me very privileged access their work and personal archives) and to take part in the study days focused on their peers. "The room next to mine" is thus as pertinent an idea to their practice as it is to my own.