Rasheed Araeen

SAF Art Spaces, 2014


In 1964 Rasheed Araeen moved to London, and became an early pioneer and practitioner of Minimalism. With no formal training in sculpture, it was his work as a civil engineer and an early encounter with the sculptures of Anthony Caro that influenced the formal language and use of simple or industrial materials characteristic of Araeen’s best-known works.

Yet unlike Caro, Araeen tried to eliminate hierarchy and traditional notions of composition in his work. In early works, such as Sculpture No. 1, conceived in 1968, steel girders were placed, without a plinth, in a simple grid on the gallery floor. In his later Structures, he used modular cubes or rectangles that were infinitely repeatable and re-combinable. While reflective of Minimalist aesthetics, Araeen’s work became increasingly participatory as seen in works such a Char Yar (1968) where viewers were free to manipulate a series of cubic forms. By 1970, his growing interest in the performative and participatory possibilities of sculpture was realised with his seminal Chakras where the artist and audience tossed a series of disks into the water at St. Katherine’s Docks.

After this time, Rasheed Araeen’s practice became increasingly politicised. As an activist, Araeen was involved in various groups supporting liberation struggles, democracy and human rights in Britain and around the world. In 1978, Araeen founded the critical journals Black Phoenix, Third Text and Third Text Africa. These were groundbreaking platforms for the views and ideas of non-Western artists whose works had been largely ignored or marginalised by traditional art institutions and the art establishment. The publications provided a crucial channel for the exchange of ideas among these artists by linking them together as part of a wider collective within the Black diaspora and Black nationalist movement that was prevalent at the time.

In the late 1980s Araeen also became known for his work curating influential exhibitions such as The Essential Black Art at the Chisenhale Gallery, London (1987) and The Other Story at the Hayward Gallery, London (1989). These exhibitions explored Britain’s colonial and post-colonial past and the legacy of racism, inequality and cultural insensitivity that Araeen felt pervaded British life.

Rasheed Araeen has exhibited internationally and regionally with significant solo exhibitions including Zero to Infinity, Museo de Arte, Lima, Peru (2013), Before and After Minimalism: Drawings, Painting, Sculpture and Concepts, 1959―1974, Aicon Gallery, London (2010), To Whom It May Concern, Serpentine Gallery, London (1996),
V Habana Biennale, Havana, Cuba (1994), Strife and/or Structure, Modern Art Gallery, Fukukoa Art Museum, Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan (1993) and From Modernism to Postmodernism: Rasheed Araeen A Retrospective‭, ‬Ikon Gallery, Birmingham (1987).

His work has been shown in group exhibitions including the Shanghai Biennale, Shanghai, China (2012), Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju, South Korea (2012), Migrations at Tate Britain, London (2012), The Mediterranean Project, Thessaloniki Biennale, Thessaloniki, Greece (2011), Live in Your Head, Museu do Chiado, Lisbon, Portugal (2001), every day Sydney Biennale, Australia (1998), 2nd Johannesburg Biennale in South Africa (1997), Magicians de la terra, Centre George Pompifou/La Villetter, France, Paris (1989) and Art of Society at Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (1978).

Rasheed Araeen is the recipient of honorary doctorates from Southampton University, East London University and Wolverhampton University.

The author of numerous essays and journals Araeen has written Art beyond Art/Ecoaesthetics: A Manifesto for the 21st Century, Third Text Publications, London (2010) and the autobiographical Making Myself Visible, Kala Press (1984).

His work is included in the collections of the Arts Council of England, CANAL PLUS, Paris, Fukuoka Art Museum, Fukuok-Shi, Japan and Tate Gallery London.

This person was part of Sharjah Biennial 11.