England & Co at
The Horse Hospital, London WC1
In the Colonnade Mews directly behind Russell Square Underground Station
Saturday 18 February – Saturday 11 March 2023
ARTISTS FOR DEMOCRACY 1974-1977
An exhibition and archival display about this collective organisation from its beginnings as the Artists Liberation Front to its activities as Artists for Democracy
In May 1974, artists David Medalla, Cecilia Vicuña, John Dugger and art critic Guy Brett co-founded the artist collective, Artists for Democracy (AFD). AFD was formed initially to raise support for democracy in Chile after the military coup in 1973, and to give ‘material and cultural support to liberation movements worldwide’, using art as ‘a way of making global political struggles visible’. A previous collective group established in 1971 by Medalla and Dugger – the Artists Liberation Front – was the precursor to AFD and shared some of the same members and political agenda.
AFD arranged the Arts Festival for Democracy in Chile at the Royal College of Art in October 1974 – a significant cultural event with many well-known international and British artists, speakers, dancers and musicians taking part in the events that were held over two weeks.
In November that same year, AFD soon regrouped after post-Festival internal divisions, and David Medalla and collaborators squatted a building in Whitfield Street in central London, which later became known as the Fitzrovia Cultural Centre. With the cooperation and assistance of many artists, friends and supporters, Medalla and Brett set up this ambitiously named, unorthodox ‘cultural centre’ as a tangible space outside the artworld mainstream where they could expand and continue AFD activities.
AFD launched a new programme while maintaining the ethos of organization by consensus established during the Chile Festival: there was no set curatorial position and anyone who wanted to be involved simply turned up. Proposals for exhibitions or events were discussed and agreed at regular meetings of the members and participants.
The public programme opened in February 1975 with a show of AFD artists’ work in progress and continued with solo shows and installations by artists including Tina Keane, Lynn MacRitchie, Rasheed Araeen, Dom Sylvester Houédard, Virgil Calaguian, Charles Hustwick, and Stephen Cripps. The many group exhibitions included ‘Victory to People’s War’ and ‘Living Words, Living Images – Festival of Progressive Poetry and Art’ – these events were accompanied by slide shows, video and film screenings, performances, lectures and discussions, maintaining a progressive artistic and political agenda.
With recent international interest in the activities of several individual AFD artist members, and in the ideas of these ‘cultural workers’ of the 1970s, it is timely to revisit and examine the collective organisation they co-founded. The concept of ‘Artists For Democracy’ has ever greater relevance in an era where democracy itself is under threat on so many fronts. It feels appropriate that this first exhibition devoted to AFD takes place in another historic counter-cultural space in central London – The Horse Hospital.
This archival exhibition is initiated and arranged by Jane England, curator and director of England & Co, as the first iteration of an ongoing exhibition project investigating aspects of AFD and what came after. AFD has been a longstanding interest of Jane England, who knew the co-founders and attended and participated at AFD events. This interest is reflected in previous related England & Co projects and exhibitons including a presentation in 2012 when we displayed John Dugger’s monumental Chile Vencera banner during the PINTA Latin American Art Fair in London; and with the solo semi-retrospective exhibition we held in 2013 for Cecilia Vicuña, which included many of her key works from the AFD period.
A related publication is in preparation and will be available later in the year – details will be announced on www.englandgallery.com and on Instagram @englandcogallery
• Podcast: Lynn MacRitchie discusses her role in Artists for Democracy. Click to listen: Art360 Foundation – Art360 Podcast, March 2023.
• Symposium: Precarious Solidarities: Artists for Democracy (1974-77). Online symposium organised by Afterall, Central St Martins, London. Click to watch: Precarious Solidarities Symposium recording, February 2023.
• Artwork: letterhead design for Artists for Democracy by John Dugger, 1974.