The Magazine as Manifesto: Black Phoenix and the Reproduction of Racial Politics in 1970s Britain

Barber Lecture Theatre - Barber Institute - University of Birmingham
Wednesday 26 October 2022 (16:00-17:30)
cover of the magazine Black Phoenix

Sam Bibby (Association for Art History)

This paper provides a close reading of the work ‘Paki Bastard’ (Portrait of the artist as a black person) by the Pakistani-born British artist Rasheed Araeen as a means to reveal how the politics of race need to be entwined with the parameters of both art history and periodical studies. It considers why it is worth thinking about how this relatively well-known work was variously recorded and preserved, and what its different iterations can tell us not just about it, but also the broader disciplinary histories in which it usually appears.

Perhaps most familiar today via six pages of the Summer 1978 issue of the magazine Black Phoenix, co-founded and -edited by Araeen with the poet Mahmood Jamal, this publication is a site upon which I focus in some detail, but one that is just part of a significantly larger, and more complicated, reproductive network, a formal structure, I argue, which is intimately allied both to the politics of its content, and to Araeen’s artistic practice more generally.

Specifically, I suggest that Araeen harnesses the medium of the magazine, one that amasses and then multiplies, as a tool to challenge, to disrupt, to overturn, the hegemony of Western art history, and in particular the racial politics of its institutional frameworks as a discipline in 1970s Britain. Araeen does so, I argue, through his recognition of the magazine as a model for the production of participation; through his formulation of a structure that engenders further contributions, Black Phoenix can be understood as what Walter Benjamin termed an apparatus, a means of ‘making co-workers out of readers or spectators’. A constant cycle of reproduction, the material proliferation of Araeen’s work across various sites maps on to the medium of the magazine, and what is more to the magazine as manifesto, multiply-reproduced and then distributed for political ends.

Image caption: Black Phoenix, no. 2, p. 1, 1978

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