Reviewed December 2020
Anina Rossen
Independent Art & Architectural Historian | Reference Librarian, South Orange Public Library

Black Artists & Modernism (BAM) is a digital resource presenting the work of the BAM research project, a three-year project focused on the relationship between the works of artists of African and Asian descent and Modernism, in particular works in public collections throughout the United Kingdom. Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council as a collaboration between the University of the Arts London and Middlesex University, the project included a team of nine researchers led by Principal Investigator Sonia Boyce. The project began in 2016 and was due for completion in 2018. As such, the site does not appear to still be active aside from updates on the embedded Twitter feed where Black Artists & Modernism remains active.

The BAM research project strove to answer the question, “How do artists of African and Asian descent in Britain feature in the story of twentieth century art?” and to address the under-recognition of Britain’s black artists both nationally and internationally, with the goal to yield new research, exhibitions, and scholarly awareness. Access to the site is free and open to the public without registration.  The home page presents the most recent exhibitions and activities relating to the project, as well as a Twitter feed. The overall design of the website is minimal. The content is clearly organized and one can intuitively navigate the site. However, the website feels more like a depository for the various elements of the project, and as a resource for those specifically interested in the project, not necessarily as a tool for students, scholars, or researchers to become more familiar with the identified and catalogued works of art by black artists. The few images that are included in the site are of relatively low quality.

Of particular interest is the website’s tab on Black Artists in Public Collections where one finds a searchable database of 410 records that contain the name of the artwork, artist, year, and collection, and can be sorted by each of those headings. This database containing the works catalogued by the BAM project would be enhanced significantly by having images of the artworks included or links to records in online museum collection catalogs.

Screenshot of a BAM database record

Under the tab Artist Dossiers, one finds a cleanly designed page of seven tiles containing the dossiers of seven individual artists. The dossiers include a biography, awards and scholarships, exhibitions, links, videos, a timeline, as well as links to related content in the site’s tabs on activities and dialogues. These dossiers provide an introduction to each of the artists but users would be better served by visiting the websites of each of these artists for a more comprehensive view, as well as to see images of their work.

The Activities and Dialogues tabs provide access to discussions between the research team and scholars, artists, curators, and other engaged members of the public, as well as content on related events, exhibitions, activities, interviews, collections, displays, and more.  From viewing this content, one can see the significant impact that this project had in the activity that it generated. Unfortunately, some content is no longer accessible, as the links to Soundcloud are no longer active. There is significant tagging to help researchers find this content, as well as filters for the categories of content such as video, audio, exhibition, event, etc. Content can also be browsed by monographic versus museological categories, so that one can distinguish content that relates to the work of a single artist versus that of a museum collection. The list of researchers also includes links to their related activities and dialogues.

BAM screenshot of two photographs depicting works of art in storage

It is clear that the Black Artists & Modernism research project did important work to bring attention to the works of black artists held in public collections in the UK. However, the minimal website gives just a taste of what must have been a rich inquiry: it does not give an outside user a full appreciation for the project or the artists and artworks catalogued. Though it is unclear whether the website is still being updated, as the project was scheduled to end in 2018, the Twitter feed does include more recent activity and can serve as a continuation of the important conversations begun with this project.

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