Eddie Chambers Biography

Encompassing the roles of artist, curator, archivist, writer and lecturer, Eddie Chambers’ career in the visual arts dates back to the late 1970s. Indeed, long before the concept of the ‘young British artist’ had even been invented, as a student at Sunderland Polytechnic, Eddie was at the forefront of a prolific and highly politicised period of artistic output. Between 1981 and 1984, and in collaboration with Claudette Johnson, Keith Piper, Donald Rodney and Marlene Smith et al, Eddie was instrumental in organising numerous exhibitions under the rubric of what became known as the ‘Black Art Movement’. Shows such as ‘Black Art an’ done: An Exhibition of Work by Young Black Artists’ (1981) and ‘An Exhibition of Radical Black Art’ (1984), encapsulate a time which arguably blazed a trail for future Black and Asian art students to follow. This influential period would later become the focus of Eddie’s doctorate, (The Emergence and Development of Black Visual Arts Activity in England between 1981 and 1986: Press and Public Responses) awarded to him in 1998 by Goldsmiths College, University of London.

Since the late 1980s, Eddie has curated over thirty group and solo exhibitions featuring a wide range of artists from Britain, the Caribbean, America, and Australia. His curatorial work has been driven by a desire to embrace both a high calibre and wide range of practice. Eddie’s tireless commitment represents an antidote to art world reticence towards genuine and respectful engagement with the broader spectrum of Black artistic practice. Seminal exhibitions include ‘Black Art: Plotting the Course’ (1988), ‘History and Identity’ (1991) and ‘Four x 4’ (1991) which at the time represented one of his most ambitious projects and involved sixteen artists commissioned to produce installations for galleries in Bristol, Wolverhampton, Preston and Leicester. Such projects resonate with his Pan-Africanist sensibility and inimitable wit. His frequently used maxim, present on his catalogues from the early 1990s: ‘’No war but Class War, No art but Black Art’’ remains relevant today, as counterpoint to art world inequity and tokenism.

Following his departure from thematic group shows, since the mid 1990s Eddie has curated a wide variety of solo projects working with artists at different stages of their careers including Frank Bowling, Tam Joseph, Michael Platt and Lesley Sanderson. More recently, through his organisation The Edward Wilmot Blyden Project, he has staged a number of ambitious solo projects in non-gallery spaces in Bristol and Bath involving artists such as Denzil Forrester, Mildred Howard, Anthony Key, Eugene Palmer and Medina Hammad.

In addition to his curatorial work, over the past three decades, archiving has formed an integral and important part of his project. Founding the African and Asian Visual Artists’ Archive in 1988 which he co-ordinated until 1992, through to The Edward Wilmot Blyden Project, Eddie now presides over a personal archive which represents arguably one of the most significant collections of material on Black artists’ work in Britain today.

Over the years, Eddie has written numerous important essays on artists’ work, and also been a regular contributor to various art journals such as Art Monthly, Third Text and Artists Newsletter. His writing has audaciously cut through stuffy art world etiquette, providing a consistent and lucid commentary on the often complex but inextricable link between artistic practice and art world politics. In the anthology, ‘Run Through the Jungle: Selected Writings by Eddie Chambers’ (1999), the art historian Sarat Maharaj describes Eddie’s writing as: “The sometimes prickly, often taut, telegraphic tone rings true - shot through with unexpected cool, English understatement and black wit’’. Maintaining a critical engagement with (and distance to) the art world, Eddie resists pandering to consensus and cliques.

As a facilitator and mentor to many in the visual arts, the importance of his contribution cannot be overstated. Three decades on, and remaining as committed as ever to his work, Eddie continues to see the bigger picture, and can imagine a better future.

Richard Hylton
Curator of Assembly '05, Bath.
Richard Hylton is based in London.