The Women of Colour Index Reading Group was set up in October 2016 by artists, Samia Malik, Michelle Williams Gamaker and Rehana Zaman. The reading group meets on a monthly basis to discuss work within the Women of Colour Index (WOCI); a unique collection of slides and papers collated by artist Rita Keegan that chart the emergence of Women of Colour artists during the ‘critical decades’ of the 1980s and 1990s. Reading group sessions aim to improve the visibility of women of colour artists whilst using material in the archive to generate discussion, thought and practice around current social and political concerns. All people of all backgrounds, genders, sexualities, religions and race are welcome.
Between October 2016 and June 2017 the WOCI Reading Group held monthly workshops at the Women’s Art Library, Goldsmiths University, a reading group during the Radical Black Arts Convention Revisited as part of The Place is Here at Nottingham Contemporary, a reading group as part of 56 Artillery Lane, Raven Row, London, an in conversation for COOL ATMOSPHERES: Performing Inner Songs featuring Priya Srinivasan, Uthra Vijay and Andrea Campaneau at The Showroom, London, and a workshop for I/Mages of Tomorrow anti conference hosted by the Centre for Feminist Research at Goldsmiths, University of London. Our sessions have focused on seminal exhibitions such as Testimony: Three Black Women Photographers (1986) and The Image Employed: the Use of Narrative in Black art (1987), and artists such as Zarina Bhimji, Martina Attile, Jagjit Chuhan, Sharon Curtis, Nina Edge, Maxine Walker, Sutapa Biswas, Sonia Boyce and Chila Kumari Burman.
The WOCI Reading Group is indebted to and inspired by the work of black women of colour artists and cultural practitioners who precede us, work alongside us and who, through their projects, art works and activities, have been influential to the critical practice and feminist politics of the reading group. Foremost amongst these is Rita Keegan, artist, lecturer and archivist, whose meticulous work compiling fragments and documents that detail the diverse practices of various women of colour artists, makes up the Index. We are acutely aware of the significance of the works and practices that are made visible within the archive as well as those that remain hidden – experiences and ideas that have been relegated to the past yet remain viscerally relevant to our present times. We hope by engaging these works we are able to activate the archive and locate this work firmly in the current moment.
We follow keenly in the footsteps of Ego Ahaiwe Sowinski, Lauren Craig, Mystique Holloway, Gina Nembhard and Zhi Holloway, who as the formidable art and art research collective X Marks the Spot (XMTS), took WOCI as the focus for their residency at the Women’s Art Library in 2012 culminating in the publication Human Endeavour. The residency was made possible by an endowment made on behalf of the feminist art historian and activist Gillian Elinor to the Women’s Art Library. Human Endeavour functions as ‘a creative finding aid’ for the Index bringing together a rich collection of interviews and responses that contextualise the archive whilst speaking to the present. The publication launched in October 2015 with the exhibition Show and Tell in the Special Collections and Archives at Goldsmiths University. Human Endeavour is a critical reference point for the activities of the WOCI Reading Group, which formed shortly after the event Celebrating the Women of Colour Index in conversation with Rita Keegan at The Showroom gallery in May 2016.
We would like to thank Althea Greenan whose tireless care and support of the WOCI Reading Group has helped motivate our continued work with the archive and whose reference to WOCI as a ‘collective artistic genealogy’ forms the bedrock of our approach. WOCI is located at The Women’s Art Library (MAKE) is located in the Library’s Special Collections Suite on the ground floor at Goldsmiths University, Rutherford Building, Goldsmiths Library, 8 Lewisham Way, London SE14 6PP.
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