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Not just a Photocopier: Exploring CopyArt through Rita Keegan’s practice

Visit Photocopying Yourself into History, an exhibition which gives insight into the organisation, Community CopyArt, and Rita Keegan’s practice. You’ll find the exhibition in Buchi Emecheta Space at Goldsmiths Library Second Floor, 20th July – 8th October 2021.

While exploring the Women’s Art Library, particularly the Women of Colour Index Group Art Shows, I came across a folder on “Community CopyArt.” Looking through the pamphlets and posters, I learnt that Community CopyArt was founded in 1983 with a grant from the Greater London Council (GLC), as an arts collective located in Kings Cross. The organisation used photocopying or “CopyArt” as a new medium of communication which combined elements of photography, collage and graphic arts with the technology of photocopiers. This is exactly what I had been embodying in the decolonising project that I undertook at Special Collections and Archives – photocopying material from: books, zines, archives within the existing collections or from outside, which is brought together in new folders by themes. This method of duplicating, deconstructing and reconstructing through photocopying, allowed me to bring together a community-based archive by arranging material thematically which challenges the conventional way of organising and collecting.

Community Copy Art Poster, Women’s Art Library, Women of Colour Index, Group Shows, ‘Through Our Black Eyes’, 1988

Here’s why CopyArt has caught my deep interest – it’s the versatility of and scope of using the photocopier as a tool for anything ranging from: publications, posters, art to liberation movements. Turns out, Rita Keegan, founder of the Women of Colour Index at the Women’s Artist Slide Library (later the Women’s Art Library) was an important part of Community CopyArt. According to her, the organisation had two main aspects. One was to work with community organisations in creating their own publicity, making an affordable resource center. The other, was helping artists use the photocopier as a printmaking medium. What is more astounding is her art practice which features experimentation with lens-based media, using the photocopier and computer in both 2D and installation work. Naomi Pierce explains how Rita utilised the photocopier as an affordable and transportable tool, one that would enable her to pursue her art practice without a studio or a permanent apartment. Furthermore, her initiatives bifurcated into understanding the challenges affiliated to Black Women’s art practice and the importance of enabling visibility. In the 1985 Black Visual Arts conference she says “Black women have always been active in the arts. It’s just we have never been recorded.” So, Rita’s involvement in records and her passion for recording comes alive in her use of the photocopier, connecting these concerns to her work within organisations such as Community CopyArt. Naomi Pierce appropriately articulates Rita’s use of the machine as using a time travelling device. Through cutting, applying heat and light, she inserts herself into the past, putting an old photo with a new one, making composite connections, giving a new life to the images to make them your own, and in Rita’s words, “photocopying yourself into history.” Through our Black Eyes was a photocopy exhibition organised in 1988, which explored the theme of Black Women’s experiences of living in Britain. Exhibition workshops were held by Rita Keegan and Marlene Smith for the community.

Through Our Black Eyes, Women’s Art Library, Women of Colour Index, Group Shows, ‘Through Our Black Eyes’, 1988

Thus, long before computer programmes and design apps made digital design and manipulation a common occurrence, the photocopy machine offered varied ways to transform images. Artists started making use of innovative techniques in a genre which became known as photocopy art or Xerox art. Experimenting with montage, distortion and transformation became an attraction for many artists. This resulted in engaging visual results. Similar to the Community CopyArt workshops, artists used techniques of reducing or enlarging images, making changes to the hue and tone of the original colour and moving the original to achieve variations in visual imagery. In 1981, American artist, Louise Neaderland founded a non-profit group called the International Society of Copier Artists, intended to promote the work of Xerox artists who used the above methods to make art using photocopy. Most importantly, the ISCA advocated for the recognition of copier art as a legitimate art form. Below is an image of a Photocopy Art zine made by ‘The Rapid Publisher’ accessed from Sherwood Forest Zine Library.

Photocopy Art zine made by ‘The Rapid Publisher’ accessed from Sherwood Forest Zine Library.

The photocopier also had a high democratic potential. Changing the political landscape, the machine provided minority groups and smaller political parties a chance to be heard by the mass public. Important messages were able to be copied in thousands and distributed across regions. Community CopyArt initially provided access to four photocopying machines, an image library as well as equipment such as typewriter and badge maker. It ran workshops for activist and community groups which produced photocopied materials for events such as the 1986 Anti-Apartheid Demonstration. The organisation was committed to political and social issues while reiterating that the machines were open access, to be used as a resource and not simply a cheap alternative to a high street print shop.

As I learn more about Rita’s photocopy art practice and Community CopyArt, while embodying this method in my own archive project, I am beginning to realise the resourcefulness of the photocopier. I have been able to achieve the power of creating new archives by pulling aspects from existing collections through photocopying and create learning resources by bringing together ephemera in a theme-wise collection. This method has become a way to reinterpret and revise histories; change narratives in a certain way which favours the communities.

Adya Jalan, Decolonising Projects 2021

 

Bibliography  

Women’s Art Library, WOCI, group shows.                                               

Pierce, Naomi. “Remember me?” In Mirror Reflecting Darkly: The Rita Keegan Archive. London: Goldsmiths Press, 2021. https://www.gold.ac.uk/goldsmiths-press/publications/-mirror-reflecting-darkly-the-rita-keegan-archive/   

https://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/rita-keegan-digital-diversity-and-colour-computers 

https://asl-group.co.uk/how-photocopiers-changed-the-way-we-work/ 

Celebrating Buchi Emecheta

On October 23, the Library celebrated the opening of the Buchi Emecheta Space, a dedicated exhibition area on the second floor. An evening reception featured short talks by the Warden, Professor Frances Corner and Head of Library Services, Leo Appleton. They welcomed the eminent editor, writer and broadcaster Margaret Busby, OBE who shared her experience of being the first to publish Buchi Emecheta’s work in Britain, holding up her copy of the first edition of The Slave Girl, featuring the photographic portrait of the author by Val Wilmer. Angelique Golding concluded the presentations with a beautiful reading from Emecheta’s Joys of Motherhood that brought the power of her writing and her voice into the room.

 

   

Margaret Busby – Co-Founder, Allison & Busby, Professor Frances Corner – Warden, Goldsmiths, University of London, Leo Appleton – Director of Library Services, Goldsmiths, University of London, Jessa Mockridge – Artist & Writer, Angelique Golding – Department Business Manager, Goldsmiths University of London & student of Black British Writing.

Florence Onyebuchi “Buchi” Emecheta OBE (21 July 1944–25 January 2017) was a powerful and defiant Nigerian British writer, teacher, mother, librarian and ‘African feminist’. She wrote prolifically authoring over 20 books, including: Second Class Citizen (1974), The Bride Price (1976), The Slave Girl (1977) and The Joys of Motherhood (1979). Emecheta’s writing defies easy categorization and is relevant to many communities: Womanists read her fierce motherhood and solidarity; Feminists, her bold independence. Queer readers pick up on her community building. Anti-racist activists celebrate her great pride in her culture and blackness. She is held up as a writer of both Nigerian and Black British identity and continues to inspire contemporary postcolonial writers. Bravery, outspokenness and determination shoot through her novels, plays, autobiography, children’s literature and critical writing.

The Buchi Emecheta Space sees the under-used lobby on the Library’s 2nd floor  re-fitted to provide an additional display area in Rutherford Building to show projects developed from engagement with materials held in the Library, including Special Collections and Archives. The inaugural exhibition organized by the curatorial group Present Futures (a collaboration between curators Teal Baskerville, Kathy Cho and Loren Elhili) originated as a project drawing on the Women of Colour Index in the Women’s Art Library collection held in Special Collections. The show, titled ‘Becoming an archive’ is part of an ongoing project presenting the archive as a space of becoming for women and non-binary people of colour and features a wide range of practices, represented by documents, artist multiples, publications and videos. The exhibition also features a powerful new commission from Rebecca Bellantoni who held a flagmaking workshop during Black History Month.

 

 

A plaque commemorating Buchi Emecheta is installed in the space alongside a dedication from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – ‘Buchi Emecheta. We are able to speak because you first spoke. Thank you for your courage. Thank you for your art. Nodu na ndokwa.’ Jessa Mockridge initiated the project to honor Emecheta with an exhibition she co-organized with Halima Haruna, titled “comeback mother : Buchi Emecheta” (April 2018, Kingsway Corridor, Richard Hoggart Building). This exhibition was an installation inspired by visiting Buchi Emecheta’s archive, preserved by her son, Sylvester Onwordi in London. Jessa worked directly with Sylvester and coordinated colleagues Laura Elliot, Althea Greenan and Nadine Plummer (Black British Writing MA) to visit the archives of manuscripts and ephemera, borrowing a selection for study back in Goldsmiths Special Collections. The exhibition included texts selected by Anqelique and Nadine. Jessa and Halima designed the publication “comeback mother” with reproduced handwritten and type writer notes lifted directly from Buchi Emecheta’s archive. Copies were distributed at the Buchi Emecheta Space opening event and spare copies are available from Special Collections and Archives, should you like one.

The evening featured a display of Emecheta’s books that are held in the Library and a soundtrack of Nigerian popular music. The evening brought together past and current students from the MA Black British Writing course to commemorate one of the most important black women writers published in the UK alongside one of the most important black women publishers, Margaret Busby, on Elizabeth William’s invitation.

The journalist Olatoun Gabi-Williams attended and has since written an excellent article for the Borders Literature web site which was also recently published in the Guardian Nigeria.

http://bordersliteratureonline.net/womendetails/Buchi_Emecheta

https://guardian.ng/art/when-goldsmiths-college-honoured-buchi-emecheta/

The Buchi Emecheta Space is open to students and staff wishing to work with materials from the Library or Special Collections, especially critical projects that broaden the curriculum and maintain the spirit of Emecheta’s appeal to many communities. Email Andrew Gray, Academic Services Librarian a.gray@gold.ac.uk for an exhibition proposal form.

comeback mother: Buchi Emecheta

My father told me very, very early in my life that why my third Ibo name is Nnenna –father’s mother, was because I am his comeback mother. It was said that when my father’s mother was dying, she had promised my father that she would come again, this time as his daughter.

-Buchi Emecheta, date unknown, from archive document

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Comeback mother: Buchi Emecheta was an archive show in fragments that unfolded in parts throughout its durational install, running from 5th – 19th April, 2018. The show centred on Buchi Emecheta’s personal archive: books, manuscripts, plays, personal letters, publishers letters, notebooks, ephemera, essays, newspapers and unpublished material. Elements were shown in both the Kingsway exhibition space and the Library at Goldsmiths.

Buchi Emecheta was a powerful and complex Nigerian British writer, teacher, mother, library worker and feminist. She wrote prolifically and defied easy categorization. She is loved by many: Womanists read her fierce motherhood and solidarity. Feminists, her bold representation of the personal political. Queer readers have picked up on her strong community making. She is proudly held up as a writer of both Nigerian and Black British identity and has inspired many contemporary postcolonial writers. She spent her life demonstrating how she is many things. The tensions, refusals and stands shoot through her novels, plays and critical writing.

At the ‘mid-way reception’ we invited author, Irenosen Okojie to read from her collection ‘Speak Gigantular’. Angelique Golding (MA Black British Writing) read from Buchi Emecheta’s ‘Head Above Water’ and we were very pleased to have Sylvester Onwordi with us to say a few words about the Buchi Emecheta archive. Sylvester’s photographs of the reception are featured on the Buchi Emecheta Foundation website.

We have many of Buchi Emecheta’s books in the library. If you’ve not read her yet, ‘Joys of Motherhood’ is an excellent place to begin. I’d also recommend ‘Head above Water’ and ‘In the Ditch’. Many of her titles will be re-published with Omenala Press. To support the exhibition we curated a reading list and book display at the front of the library. One of the important things looking at Buchi Emecheta’s work was to acknowledge contemporary writing and storytelling that has come before, around and after her.

You are welcome to access our reading list.

come back mother: Buchi Emecheta was co-organised by Halima Haruna and Jessa Mockridge in collaboration with Buchi Emecheta Foundation, Goldsmiths Library and supported by Goldsmiths Alumni & Friends Fund. With a very big thanks for all kinds of shaping, support and care from Sylvester Onwordi, Nadine Plummer, Angelique Golding, Althea Greenan and Laura Elliott.

– Jessa Mockridge