Art and Culture

Historical blindness hurts

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Three recent arguments over cultural representations of anti-racist struggle expose a willingness to distort or ignore real historical events in order to fit with current ideas, writes Ken Olende.

The Metropolitan Police brutally attack a peaceful anti-racist demonstration in a key early scene from the new TV drama Guerrilla. It is 1971 and the police violence recalls two real incidents — the demonstration against police harassment that led to the arrest of the Mangrove Nine, and the later death of anti-racist activist Blair Peach.

Gustav Metzger, 1926 to 2017

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The artist, refugee, political activist and influential creator of “auto-destructive” art, Gustav Metzger, died last month. Noel Halifax recalls his radical contribution to the culture of Britain in the 1960s and 1970s.

Art and artists come in and out of fashion, as does their influence and people’s interpretation of it. In recent years Gustav Metzger, who died in March, has been out of fashion. His heyday was the 1960s and 70s when he was central to the shape and direction of the British art world and ironically created one of the foundations on which the current bloated art scene is based. Ironically, because he was politically opposed to the current art world, hated the art market and all that it stands for.

Alan Simpson (1929-2017)

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Alan Simpson (left) with co-writer Ray Galton (right) and Tony Hancock (centre)

Alan Simpson, who has died aged 87, was half of one of the most talented and socially-perceptive comedy-writing partnerships of post-war Britain. He and Ray Galton created two of Britain’s best-loved comedy series, Hancock’s Half Hour and Steptoe and Son.

Alan Simpson was born in Brixton to a working class family, the son of a window-cleaner. He attended Mitcham grammar school but left early to work as a shipping clerk.

David King: The man who rescued the avant-garde

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Graphic designer David King, who died last month, was inspired by the art produced in revolutionary Russia. Roger Huddle looks back on a pathbreaking artist and his contribution to political struggle over five decades.

The news of his death came as a shock. We had come through the same history, but together for only a short period.

As times were changing during the two decades from 1965 young socialists began to discover the cultural upheavals during Russia’s revolution, hidden by Stalinism and ignored in the West. As the new left reconnected with Trotsky, those involved in cultural production discovered Constructivism, Agit-prop, the poetry of Mayakovsky and the photography of Rodchenko.

Who decides if culture is authentic?

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Recent controversies over food, hairstyles and music have highlighted the complexities of race and representation. Ken Olende unpacks some of the issues surrounding the notion of "cultural appropriation" and argues that culture is constantly evolving.

Beyoncé managed to both delight and offend with her US Superbowl tribute to the Black Panther Party. Fox News got a police sergeant to say it was the equivalent to a white act coming out in “hoods and white sheets”. She was attacked both by the right for politicising a sports event and by some on the left for trivialising a political movement, by turning a revolutionary struggle into a sexualised dance routine.

Malevich: Revolutionary of Russian Art

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Woman with a Rake

Tate Modern, London, until 26 October
The curators at Tate Modern have assembled, quite simply, a magnificent exhibition. Kazimir Malevich was born near Kiev in 1879. He died in 1935 after being diagnosed with cancer while imprisoned in one of Stalin’s camps. Throughout his adult life he was a revolutionary artist, an innovator and teacher.

British Folk Art

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British Folk Art

Tate Britain, London, until 31 August

Policing the borders of art is a tricky business. They’re porous, and they’re constantly shifting. What passes as “art” today may no longer pass tomorrow. It’s like nailing jelly to a tree.

This is not a question that torments most of us. But the movers and shakers in the art world are obsessed with it. Either they’ve got millions riding on their favourites or else they’ve erected palaces of high culture around them.

Digital Revolution

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Digital Revolution

Barbican, London, until 14 September

Digital Revolution opens onto a darkened room lit by code that drops Matrix-style towards the floor, the flashing of video games and the blinking of computer screens. Clips of music repeat over and over, competing with the 8-bit bleeps and bursts from early video games. It’s immediately loud, exciting, daunting and disorientating.

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