Black Phoenix

Title Black Phoenix: journal of contemporary art & culture in the Third World
Location London
Publisher BCM Black Phoenix
Periodicity Biannual
URL Black Phoenix Worldcat
Published Since 1978-1979
Indexed Holdings 1978-1979


The Library of the Museum of Modern Art, New York (Queens)

Periodical's Overview

Black Phoenix is the result of a realization that we who are concerned with the cultural predicament of the Third World must stand on our own feet and speak with a unified voice, that we must collectively confront, on an international level, those forces which in the name of ‘universal freedom of man’ are actually causing enslavement of men and women. No matter how inarticulate some of our first attempts may appear, this should not prevent us from speaking up. We can only learn from our own efforts and develop the precision of thought and action.

Black Phoenix is not a journal merely for professional writers or critics (to perpetuate their self-interest) but a platform for discussion, a channel for the exchange of ideas relating to the cultural predicament of mankind in the era of advanced capitalism and imperialism. It represents a commitment to the struggle against cultural domination and hegemony; and all those who are engaged in this struggle--irrespective of their race, colour, or creed--are invited to participate in this dialogue.


We reject the widespread and mistaken idea that the technological culture which has been developing in the West is universal and that all people will eventually have to adapt to Western values as part of their modern industrial developments. The emergence of an industrial society in the Third World with its own cultural forms and values is possible only if it develops independently.

It would be naive to think that art or cultural activity alone can change the world or that in our cultural struggle we can ignore socio-economic and political forces. However, the struggle within the domain of art/culture against domination can strengthen the overall struggle. And therefore art must play its own due role in human struggle.


We recognize that cultural struggle is part of class struggle. […] We do not accept the romanticized necessity of material poverty for the artist. To demand for the recognition of one’s art activity and to accept money for one’s work is not careerism. Black Phoenix does not constitute a corporate body…..”[1]

Selected Subject Headings

  • Art, Modern - 20th century - Nigeria
  • Art, Tanzanian - 20th century
  • Authors, Kenyan - 20th century
  • Avant-garde (aesthetics) - political aspects
  • Blacks in Great Britain
  • Cultural imperialism
  • Disappeared persons - Chile
  • East and West
  • Elephants in literature
  • Exploding Galaxy (group of artists)
  • Islamic cities and towns - Middle East
  • Modernism and colonialism
  • Patchwork quilts - Chile
  • Politics and culture - 20th century
  • Politics and literature - Latin America
  • Postcolonialism and the arts
  • Revolutionary poetry, Urdu
  • Sihnalese poetry - 20th century
  • Slides (photography) in art


In its first issue, Black Phoenix tentatively called itself a Journal of Contemporary Art & Culture in the Third World, promptly shifting in the other two issues that were to form this short-lived publishing venture to Third World Perspectives on Contemporary Art and Culture. The titling fine-tuning is important: from Journal of to Perspectives on, as it introduces a distancing and self-positioning gesture, one that was to shape its contents, marked by an overarching emancipatory call to artists and cultural producers from all around the world. To fight imperialism.

Stemming out from the Metropolis, London in this case, Black Phoenix was published and edited by Mahmood Jamal, an Urdu poet, and artist and thinker Rasheen Araeen. Appearing in 1978, the date is an important marker if one is to understand the significance of this publication; not just because it points to historical contingencies--for example, Margaret Thatcher was to be elected in 1979--but also because it gives us an indication of the socio-political contexts in which it appeared: a simmering cauldron that was to deliver to us the seismic shift of Postcolonial thought, to be further developed during the 1980s in England and the United States, as well as in other locations like India. Each place with its specificities, as each carried its own colonial histories, and its own postcolonial subjects.

The seminal role that Black Phoenix occupies in the utterance of discontents, as well as in offering space to other modes of thought that contended with Western modes of cultural imperialism, should not be underestimated. It is this productive combativeness that makes its thin three issues a very interesting document of those times, essential tools to help us understand the divergent paths that postcoloniality will take in different locations. A combative, and riot prone attitude in England, in contrast with a more academic path in the United States; importantly, Black Phoenix paved the way to a more nuanced perception of issues of “race” in the British archipelago, spearheaded in the 1980s by Stuart Hall, and in the field of cultural production, by the Black Audio Film Collective and many others. All these would lead to an essential grammatical distinction, an encompassing one: Black and British, Black having a combinatory polyvalence that a divisive United States has yet to reach. Here, we’d also like to note that both Araeen and Jamal invoke race and class in their “inarticulate” editorial, and Araeen denounces later on the neo-colonial creation “of [a] native bourgeoisie in the Third World, an ethnic bourgeoisie in the West - exotic and subservient.”[2] A perceptive argument against paralizing essentialisms, binaries.

Araeen, who re-emerged in 1987 as the editor of Third Text[3], has always been a polemicist. An artist and a public intellectual, one needs not to agree with his position, but consensus is not what he’s after; despite ideological or aesthetic differences, one cannot but empathize with the urgency and conviction that fuel his first publishing venture, one that we perceive as entering a continuum initiated by the more conciliatory Signals, as the presence of David Medalla and Takis might indicate, despite the shifting of their positions during the intervening decade. From smiles to rifles.

But not all centers around the Metropolis, as we get exposed to a very interesting mix of dispatches from all around the globe: from Tanzania to Chile to Sri Lanka to Nigeria to Argentina to Kenya; the writers, Ariel Dorfman, Eduardo Galeano, Parakrama Kodituwakku, or Babatunde Lawal; the subjects, ranging from Islamic urbanism to revolutionary Urdu poetry to Afro-Caribbean art, cultural productions in the context of political oppression, cultural imperialism, conservative backlashes, and disappearing citizens. And the acts of resistance, everywhere.

This international scope--as in Inter National--as well as its combative class consciousness is what distinguishes Black Phoenix from future 1990s and 2000s discourses that rushed to embrace “Globalism,” a disturbing acceptance of economic frameworks as the only astrolabes from which to uncritically perceive our current moment. Black Phoenix attests to an awareness of these similar totalizing frameworks, but enacted a refusal at accepting them.

The price they paid, a short life; the reward, its afterlife, its present relevance.

To peruse the indexed contents of Black Phoenix, please log into the database.


[1]Rasheed Araeen and Mahmood Jamal. "Editorial,"Black Phoenix (London), no. 1 (Winter 1978) : 2.

[2]Rasheed Araeen. "Afro-Caribbean art: an analysis," Black Phoenix (London), no. 2 (Summer 1978) : 30-31.

[3]The indexed contents of Third Text can be found in ccindex's database. Infoweb record forthcoming.

[*]ccindex thanks Kobena Mercer for bringing Black Phoenix to our attention.