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
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/