Black British Artists and Exhibition Histories

Black British Artists and Exhibition Histories

Professor Paul Goodwin

Eleven Years: Notes Towards A Pre-History of The Other Story

“The Work Between Us” – Paper – Paul Goodwin


This is notes to a speech given by Professor Paul Goodwin on Wednesday 20 January 2016 in Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool, UK. Video of the speech can be found on vimeo. A link is given below.


The Other Story exhibition, curated by Rasheed Araeen, opened at London’s Hayward Gallery in November 1989 and ran until February 1990. The task from concept to the exhibition actually happening took 11 years.

The Other Story, 1989, the first retrospective exhibition of British African, Caribbean and Asian modernism, was received with derision and acclaim in equal measure. The Tate later produced a paper which discussed the roots of the controversy in Britain’s imperialist attitudes to race, nationalism and internationalism, the exhibition’s contribution to the erosion of ethnic barriers in the art establishment and its role in opening up a cosmopolitan perspective on British diasporan art.

“The Other Story” was one of the most significant and contentious exhibitions of the past thirty years. The far reaching consequences of its radical re-reading of the history of modernism in Britain are still being debated (and perhaps also still denied) today.

Relatively little work, however, has been undertaken on the pre-history of this seminal enterprise. In a letter to the Arts Council in October 1978 Rasheed Araeen suggested the ‘possibility of organising a survey exhibition of the works of black artists in Britain’.

Undeterred by initial delays and rebuffs to his proposal – a veritable ‘theater of refusal’ – Araeen doggedly pursued his mission of researching, curating and organising his ground breaking exhibition over a period of eleven years until its opening at the Hayward just over a decade later. This paper will suggest ways of thinking through this complex pre-history of The Other Story.

This includes commentary on the voluminous correspondence between Araeen and the Arts Council; the institutional context of the relationship between discussions around modernism, exhibitions and black artists in Britain during this decade; Araeen’s approach to research and exhibition making during this period and a consideration of the notion of a ‘pre-history’ in relation to the emerging historiography of exhibitions relating to black artists’ practices.


Professor Paul Goodwin gave an illuminating talk about this groundbreaking project.

A video of his talk can be found here.


Professor Paul Goodwin is based at UAL.  He is UAL Chair of Contemporary Art and Urbanism & Director of TrAIN (Transnational Art, Identity and Nation Research Centre).

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