Marlene Smith biography

Marlene Smith is an artist/curator, UK Research Manager for the AHRC funded Black Artists & Modernism (BAM) and a PHD candidate researching women’s exhibition practice during the UK Black Art Movement.

Born in Birmingham,  in 1982 Smith joined the fluid line up of students; Eddie Chambers, Claudette Johnson, Wenda Leslie, Keith Piper, Donald Rodney, Janet Vernon, that is today referred to as The Blk Art Group. She would go on to exhibit throughout the 80s, including Lubaina Himid’s 1985 Thin Black Line and to organise But Some of Us Are Brave, the first exhibition of black women’s work at north London’s Black Art Gallery, a space she would return to as Director (1991-94).  In 1986 she collaborated with Keith Piper to curate The Image Employed: the use of natrative in black art. The following year she moved back to the West Midlands and spent 4 years running the region’s “minorities arts service” WEMAS. She worked briefly with David A Bailey and Sonia Boyce at the African & Asian Visual Artists Archive at UEL before returning in 2001 to the West Midlands to join the team developing The Public, a £multi-million regeneration project in one of the countries poorest boroughs.

She set up Public Gallery Ltd in 2006; a company working to explore collaborative practice and was Executive Director there until 2009 when she took up an international placement spending 6 months in Shanghai as a NESTA Fellow in Cultural Leadership. In the summer of 2011 she set up Blk Art Group Research Project with Claudette Johnson and Keith Piper and made a tentative return to the unfinished business of her artistic and curatorial practice.

In February 2012 she co-chaired (with Sonia Boyce) The Blk Art Group Symposium at Sheffield Museums during their exhibition The Blk Art Group (2011-12). Later that year she organised and co- chaired (with Paul Goodwin) the conference Reframing The Moment marking the 30th anniversary of The First National Convention of Black Art.

Smith undertakes a range of curatorial, research and writing projects. Recent projects include; 2013/14 Study Days on the work of artists Amanda Holiday, Barbara Walker and Claudette Johnson; curator Watchers, Seekers, Keepers an exhibition of Vanley Burke’s work as part of the 2015 Scotia Bank Toronto Photography Festival; essay Looking Company for Burke’s 2015 Ikon gallery solo exhibition At Home With Vanley Burke; Seemothermotherisverynice paper on Martina Atille’s 1988 film, Dreaming the Association of Art Historians 2016 conference.

Smith’s work with BAM to date includes Study Days on Gavin Jantjes, Lubaina Himid and Li Yuan-Chia.

She is co convenor with Elizabeth Robles (Bristol) and Zehra Jumaboy (Courtauld) of the panel, “Bodies Of Art: transgressing race, gender and sexuality” for the AAH 2017 conference.