Explore the work of contemporary artists concerned with representations of race, ethnicity and identity 

What is race? 
Race is the classification of humans into groups based on physical traits, ancestry, genetics or social relations, or the relations between them. The concept of race has been used to categorise humans along the lines of shared characteristics in order to understand human difference.

Race, ethnicity and visual culture are inextricably linked, and contemporary art presents a rich site for artists to comment upon and attack racist imagery and attitudes in contemporary society.

The politics of race
The 1960s witnessed the beginning of a series of dramatic nongovernmental social movements engaged in activism related to the issues of human rights. These included a diverse range of race-related issues including resistance to colonialism, imperialism, slavery, racism, patriarchy, apartheid and oppression of indigenous peoples.

Photographer David Goldblatt's exhibition at Modern Art Oxford in 2003 documented social, personal and political upheavals in the history of South Africa from the 1950’s onwards. These photographic essays traced aspects of everyday life through the struggle of apartheid and its legacy.

Artist's such as Goldblatt use unflinching political works to expose systems of power and influence, and examine their relationship to race.

Critiquing representations of race
Artists today continue to explore the increasingly complex territory of race and ethnic identity looking at the issue of racism and construction of identity, which continue to be powerful forces characterising contemporary society in the second decade of the 21st century.

Kerry James Marshall uses black culture and stereotypes to create subjects who are, in his words, 'unequivocally, emphatically black'.

Marshall’s work is characterised by politically charged references to the Black-American experience. He draws on literature, films, music and comic books, western art history and classical mythology to create what has been described as “a meditation on black aesthetics”.

Hardeep Pandhal makes work that is both satirical and transgressive to question perceptions of British Asian identity through his reflections on modern British history and popular culture.

New representations of race
Many contemporary artists have drawn on their own racial identities to create depictions of historically marginalised individuals, to draw attention to the non-representation of non-white subjects in the history of Western art, to critique stereotypes and racist caricatures.

Lubaina Himid’s work challenges the stereotypical depictions of black figures in art history, foregrounding the contribution of the African diaspora to Western culture.

As an artist, curator and academic, Himid been active to show the contribution black artists have made to the visual arts in the UK, while creating a powerful body of work over decades that looks at the legacies of slavery, the visual arts of the Black Diaspora and issues relating to black representation.

Himid's Freedom and Change (1984) appropriates and transforms the female figures from Picasso’s Two Women Running on the Beach ( The Race), 1922, into black women, powerfully and humorously subverting one of the most canonical paintings in Western art history.

Lubaina Himid and art historian Courtney J. Martin discuss Himid’s curatorial practice and her experiences in early life.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby draws on the tradition of classical academic painting in order to represent family portraits and domestic scenes from her home life in Nigeria and America. She says, “I feel like I’m taking this Western visual language I inherited, just as African writers inherited English, and I’m trying to make a new version of it so it speaks to another place.”

Otobong Nkanga also explores the notions of identity, the status of African women and the cultural peculiarities of her native Nigeria, through performance and sculpture.

Credits: Story

Modern Art Oxford is an arts charity founded in 1965. It is a space for everyone to enjoy and experience contemporary art, for free. Every exhibition and event at Modern Art Oxford is supported financially by friends of the gallery and members of the public who help to safeguard our future by making regular donations. Without the support of these generous and committed individuals, we would be unable to produce these inspirational exhibitions, events and activities.

Modern Art Oxford is supported by Arts Council England and Oxford City Council.

The content provided in this series of exhibits and films is designed to provide helpful information on the subjects discussed. The exhibits and films are not designed to be used as complete analysis on these subjects. Images sourced for the exhibits and films are copyright to their respectful owners. Full credit information is listed in the details section linked to each image. Unless otherwise noted, the content provided is © Modern Art Oxford. All rights reserved. The content may not be copied in part or full without permission. Every effort has been made to trace copyright holders and to obtain their permission for the use of copyright material. Modern Art Oxford would be grateful to hear from any interested parties info@modernartoxford.org.uk

Modern Art Oxford is a charity registered in the UK: 313035

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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