Our History

An introduction to Iniva


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photo of model wearing wig of Rivington Place

Meshac Gaba: Tresses, Rivington Place wig


Iniva was founded in 1994, with significant support from Arts Council England, in response to a growing campaign for Black and Asian artists to be given more prominence and attention by the mainstream visual arts sector. This campaign was born out of the political movements of the late 70s and early 80s which called for greater understanding and acceptance of diversity and difference. This activism became most visible through the artistic work of the Blk Art Group in the early to mid-80s.


As the idea for Iniva developed, it grew to encompass internationalism and the study of global artistic practice; the remit being that Iniva should seek out and champion artists from around the world whose work and ideas would provide new perspectives for Britain's then predominantly western-centric view of the visual arts. Iniva was launched at a seminal conference at Tate Britain entitled Towards a New Internationalism which explored notions of internationalism, the role of curatorial practice and debated cultural identity and difference.


Iniva quickly established a reputation for innovative solo and group exhibitions, working with a broad cross-section of artists and ranging from site-specific work to gallery-based projects. Iniva played an important role in the early careers of now internationally respected artists such as Yinka Shonibare MBE, Steve McQueen, Idris Khan and Sonia Boyce by commissioning work which were considered to be ‘firsts' for those artists. Other work commissioned by Iniva sits both in public and private collections, the most famous of these is Yinka Shonibare's much-praised Diary of a Victorian Dandy (1998) for which he received a nomination for the Deutsche Börse (formerly Citibank) Photography prize. We have co-produced over 60 important exhibitions and worked with over 300 partners including The Hayward Gallery, Tate, ICA and the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York.


We are considered to be a pioneering arts organisation having worked with notable and now influential academics, artists, curators and writers including Professor Stuart Hall (Iniva's founding Chair), Professor Kobena Mercer, Okwui Enwezor, Professor Sonia Boyce, Judith Butler, Keith Piper, Sarat Maharaj, Chris Dercon, Isaac Julien and Baroness Lola Young to name but a few. At the same time Iniva has brought to the public's attention established international artists who are little known in the UK, such as Henri Dono (Indonesia), Meshac Gaba (Benin) and Sheela Gowda (India) and re-examined previously unknown or half-forgotten art histories such as the Harlem Renaissance in post-war America and a published critique on the work of artists from Latin America. Through its work, Iniva has continued to encourage the study and interrogation of cultural identity and difference, most recently in its 2011 exhibition Entanglement: the ambivalence of identity, but also previously in exhibitions such as Alien Nation (2007), which explored science-fiction, race and contemporary art and Veil (2003), which addressed the veneration and vilification of the veil in contemporary culture.


Over two decades, Iniva developed new models of practice and collaboration based on connecting different people with contemporary art practice and ideas. Iniva was one of the first arts organisations to commission visual artists to produce online work and Iniva's virtual gallery - the x-space - is one of the most distinctive visual arts sites of its kind. Publishing has always been an important strand of Iniva's programme, and our books have an established international reputation. Iniva has published over 50 titles, including exhibition catalogues, artists' monographs and anthologies of new critical writing, which promote diverse perspectives on modern and contemporary art and advance critical debate internationally. (Our books can be viewed in the Publications and Shop sections of our website). Iniva also established an award-winning education and research programme. We continue to hold regular talks and symposia, stimulating debate and engaging leading thinkers in a broad range of issues concerned with international arts practice, culture and diversity. Iniva's unique research facility, the Stuart Hall Library, is a valuable reference resource for students, researchers and all interested readers that provides a critical, theoretical and historical context for artists' work. It is one of the leading UK libraries in the field of international visual art with a significant collection that focuses on the work of British artists from diverse cultural backgrounds and on contemporary art from Africa, Asia, Latin America.




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