Black Sheep: Rasheed Araeen, David Medalla, and Reconfigurations of Visibility in the 1970s

Eleanor Roberts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

115 Downloads (Pure)


This article analyses ways in which emergent categories of performance and participatory art in the 1970s initiated, intensified, and continue to sustain questions about who and what could be subject of art and its institutional history in the West. I focus on the challenges to established notions of visibility, the archive, and imperialist cultural institutions more broadly made by conceptual and experimental artists Rasheed Araeen and David Medalla. The article details ways in which Araeen and Medalla (like other migrant artists to the UK) have historically been received through interpretive schemata produced by assumptions of ‘ethnic tradition’, as well as inaccurate and reductive notions of the authentic encounter in performance. By contrast, I make a case here for understanding these practices in terms of a critical and recalcitrant theatricality that might cut across disciplinary and generational borders. As Araeen and Medalla burlesque and counter their own reception as the marginal, outsider, or ethnic ‘Other’, they foreground the instability of history as a contested and mobile scene which can be wrested for reinscription. Araeen’s Paki Bastard (1977) and Medalla’s Down with the Slave Trade! (1968-71) are analysed amongst other works in relation to queer, feminist and postcolonial approaches to historicity. This elucidates a set of formal and political strategies whereby decentred, seemingly quotidian, institutionally ‘unauthorised’, fabulative, and queer forms of culture and knowledge are engaged in a way that sustains conflicts of visibility and representation in a state of generative contestation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-73
JournalContemporary Theatre Review
Issue number1-2
Early online date19 May 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 19 May 2021


  • performance art
  • conceptual art
  • anti-racist art movement
  • black radicalism
  • postcolonial archive

Cite this