Keith Piper is a British multi-media artist and academic of African-Caribbean heritage. Born in Malta in 1960, he was raised in Birmingham and studied at Trent Polytechnic and the Royal College of Art. Exploring printed media, collage, digital media and installation, his work often responds to social and political issues such as colonialism, the construction of history, masculinity and racial and national identity. Piper was a founding member of the 1980s BLK Art Group, a collective of Black British art students from the West Midlands that included Eddie Chambers and Claudette Johnson.
(You are now entering) Mau Mau Country (1983) is a large acrylic painting on raw hessian canvas, smeared and dripped with blood-red paint. The left section shows three portraits of glowering Black men baring their teeth. On the right, two further portraits of Black men stare out of the canvas, faces composed but defiant. Referencing the conflict between Kenyan Kikuyu groups known as Mau Mau and British colonial forces in the 1950s, this artwork encapsulates the colonial fear of savagery, juxtaposed with the strength of a body of people defending their land, contemporarily referenced with “no Barclaycards here” and “no little white lies”. This was one of the first works by the 1980s young generation of Black artists to enter a public collection, purchased by the Arts Council Collection in 1984.
Go West Young Man (1987) comprises 14 panels, incorporating photographs with printed and handwritten text. The artwork combines visuals relating to the slave trade, using the iconic 1778 graphic of the English slave ship Brookes, with stills from films, to pictures of lynchings and black male bodybuilders. The panels build up a fragmented and contradictory presentation of the stereotypical male black body, commenting on commodification of the black male form - from its reduction to a graphic line on a slave ship diagram, to violent racial injustices suffered in the American South, to its representation in Western media.
Piper’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, including at the New Museum, New York (1999), the National Gallery of Canada (1999), the Gate Foundation, Holland (1998), and in group shows such as Centrum Beeldende Kunst, Holland (2010), the V & A, London (2004), Ottawa Art Gallery (1997), the National Gallery of Victoria (1996), and more recently in Ghosts, Lethaby Gallery UAL, London (2015), Black Art in Focus, Wolverhampton Art Gallery (2016), Unearthing the Banker’s Bones, Bluecoat, Liverpool (2016-17) and New Art Exchange, Nottingham (2017).
Keith Piper (b. 1960)
(You are now entering) Mau Mau Country, 1983
Keith Piper is a multi-media artist and academic of African-Caribbean heritage. He was a founder member of the ground-breaking 1980s BLK Art Group, a collective of Black British art students from the West Midlands. The “Mau Mau” referred to in the title is the militant anti-colonial movement among the Kikuyu people of Kenya originating in the 1950s.
Acrylic on hessian & canvas
On loan from Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London