Glasgow Gallery hosts Syd Shelton’s tribute to Rock Against Racism
Timely exhibition depicts Britain’s Rock Against Racism movement, which combatted the National Front in the 1970s
The Street Level Photoworks Gallery is hosting an exhibition of photographs by Syd Shelton, portraying the rise of the Rock Again Racism (RAR) movement in the 1970s.
The RAR campaign was a response to an increase in racial conflict and the growth of white nationalist groups in Britain, such as the National Front.
The campaign involved pop, rock, punk and reggae musicians staging concerts that tried to discourage young people from accepting racist attitudes.
Referencing the impact of the movement, Shelton said: “In collaboration with UK reggae and punk bands, RAR members took on the orthodoxy through five carnivals and some 500 gigs throughout Britain. In those five years, the National Front went from a serious electoral threat into political oblivion.”
Street Level Photoworks Gallery stated: “[These] photographs document the volatility of a country divided across race, class and gender. They expose the ferocity of cultural difference being hammered out on Britain’s streets through the late 1970s, at a time when racist skinheads danced to Jamaican ska, punks embraced reggae and black kids reached out to punk.
“Shelton captured the history-making RAR Carnival 1 at Victoria Park London in 1978, and demonstrations such as the Anti National Front Demonstration in Lewisham in 1977. Shelton also took contextual social and cultural images that informed the politics of the movement across England and Ireland.”
Discussing the RAR Carnival 1 event, Syd Shelton said: “By seven in the morning there was 10,000 people rocking and singing Tom Robinson’s anthem, ‘(Sing if you’re) glad to be gay. By 11am there was 100,000 people.”
The exhibition was curated by Mark Sealy and Carol Tulloch and is supported using public funding by Arts Council England.
Last month, Syd Shelton and co-curator Carol Tulloch attended a Walk and Talk event at the Gallery. Shelton discussed his favorite photographs, shared memories and explained how the RAR movement was born.
Tulloch said: “In my head the exhibition is taking a life of its own… [It] started as a really small exhibition in Chelsea Space and it’s just gone into something quite big, which I think is quite overwhelming.”
On Saturday 1 April from 2pm to 5pm, the Gallery will host a series of Walk and Talk events on Scotland’s role in Rock Against Racism, and current work on anti-racist campaigning.
It will include a number of representatives from Love Music/Hate Racism, Unite Against Fascism, and the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights, as well as individuals involved in RAR cultural events.
The Street Level Photoworks Galley is a nonprofit organisation offering free admission to the public, and hosts a variety of photography production facilities. Their website states: “We are committed to quality and equality across activity. We provide a high quality artistic programme in the city of Glasgow that is challenging and accessible, local and international, diverse and highly individual.”
The Rock Against Racism Exhibition runs to 9 April at the Street Level Photoworks Gallery, 103 Trongate, Glasgow.