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Transnational Slade

By Liz Bruchet, on 3 June 2014

Transnational Slade: Mapping the diaspora of an art school
The first in a series of guest blog posts by Amna Malik

The Transnational Slade project is interested in the links between past students at the Slade and the impact they went on to have internationally after graduation. More specifically we are trying to find out how art school education has affected or impacted on the history of art in different parts of the world.

The initial aim of this project is to explore this impact of art education by examining who was at the Slade, specifically during the 1950s. This decade is important because it was a pivotal decade of change between Britain and its former colonial territories, specifically in the widening of the Commonwealth and the diminishing of the empire. It’s an era when modernism began to enter the work of artists who would play a more visible role in the Independence movements of their countries in South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Perhaps because of the complex social and historical changes that were underway during the 1950s the art of this decade outside of France, Italy and the US remains under-examined. The presence in London of major artists of modernism created in different parts of the world has not been fully explored, perhaps because of the tendency for art history to be directed by nationalist narratives.

Within British art history we know of familiar movements such as the Bloomsbury Group, the Camden Town Group, the Euston Road School, and after the Second World War the rise of the Independent Group in the 1950s, followed by what was once seen, as British variants on artistic styles, US movements, such as post-painterly abstraction, Pop and land art. We are all aware of the contributions of Moore, Bacon, Sutherland and Hepworth to modernism. In recent years our knowledge of modern and postmodern artists from Britain has widened, including the presence of artists of the African and Asian diaspora, some of them gathered together in Rasheed Araeen’s exhibition The Other Story (1989). The Slade’s position within this history of twentieth century art has tended to arise in the context of Wyndham Lewis and the Vorticists, from 1914 onwards. It is largely examined as a backdrop to the rising stars of figurative painting in the 1950s: Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff, Lucien Freud and later Ewan Uglow.

Transnational Slade, as the name indicates, brings to light the presence in London of artists from numerous parts of the world:  Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Pakistan, Sudan, India, Bangladesh, China, Thailand, South Africa, Canada, Tanzania, Ethiopia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Guyana and Vietnam, to name only a few. While some of these artists have subsequently become well known – for instance Sam Ntiro, Khalid Iqbal, Ibrahim El-Salahi and Skunder Boghossian – all became central to the development of modernism in their countries. The work of other artists has received less attention and is yet to be recognised. We are interested in finding out more about these artists.

Two case studies have been compiled of contrasting artists: Khalid Iqbal is well known in Pakistan as a teacher and pioneer of landscape painting in the realist tradition; we know less about his period of study at the Slade. If you studied with him or knew someone who did, please tell us more. Ibrahim El-Salahi was the subject of a touring retrospective curated by Professor Salah Hassan that came to London’s Tate Modern in summer 2013. Whilst Iqbal’s engagement with the empirical tradition of British art was fundamental to his subsequent career, for El-Salahi it proved to be a starting point for a different direction. As Sudan and other African countries moved towards independence in the 1960s, his work changed in direction, away from painting from the model towards an abstract language influenced by Arabic calligraphy and African tribal sculpture.

These artists have been chosen because they offer contrasting positions in relation to the European canon. Iqbal adapted the empirical realist techniques he learnt at the Slade to depict the outskirts of Lahore in an era of national renewal. His interest in this empirical approach can perhaps be seen as an example of the way modernism adapted and changed in different local contexts. In his case it seems to have been a rejection of the tradition of miniature painting native to Lahore. In this respect, it can also be seen as a rejection of the Mughal styles of art favoured by the British Raj. El-Salahi’s early formation as an artist was in the empirical tradition of drawing and painting from the model, which he continued at the Slade, but radically departed from in subsequent years. Both artists have been highly influential to the development of modernism in their respective countries. They are indicative of the transformative nature of modernism in the twentieth century, as artists responded to local conditions and situations of art making in different parts of the world.

By making Slade class photographs available online we hope that Transnational Slade, through your contributions, will further our, currently, largely Eurocentric knowledge of art history, the place of art under the umbrella of the Commonwealth, and the place of art in the history of national Independence movements. These are just a selection of artists we have come across in our archives who were students at the Slade during the 1950s: Ibrahim El-Salahi A.M. El Din Guneid and Baghdadi Bastawi from Sudan, Sam Joseph Ntiro from Tanganyika (now Tanzania), Arthur Albert Adams and Mary Chappe Sutton from South Africa, Yu Tseng, Chien-Ying Chang, C.W. Fei and Deh-ta Hsiung, from China, Krishna Gosajeni from Thailand, Sinclair Healy from Canada, Jamila Zafar, Khalid Iqbal and Anwar Shemza from Pakistan, Kamalendu Roy, Ameena Ahmed and Kalpathi Ganapathy Subramanyam from India, Jack Cripper and Desmond Digby and James Robson Cowan, otherwise known as Roy Cowan from New Zealand, Warrington Colescott from the US, Surya Antonius from Jordan, Koesoema Affandi from Indonesia, Batil T. Patwa from Kenya, Menhat Allah Helmy from Egypt, Van-my or Phan-Van-My Phan from Vietnam, Skunder Boghossian from Ethiopia, Kim Lim from Singapore.

We’re also looking for a variety of material about these individuals: photographs, stories of your impressions of them, letters from them during their years in London if you have them and are willing to share them, any knowledge of exhibition catalogues or information on where we might get them. Please share with us your memories of these artists as teachers, colleagues, friends. Comments can be added publicly through the Slade Class Photos website, or you may write to: slade.enquiries@ucl.ac.uk or Slade Archive Project, Slade School of Fine Art, UCL, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT.