'Black Arsenal' launch at the Barbican

Black Arsenal launch at the Barbican

Yesterday evening, the Barbican hosted a public talk from UCL Professors Paul Gilroy and Dr Clive Nwonka ​​​​​entitled 'Black Arsenal: Race, Cultural Memory and Black British Identity'. 

As two leading thinkers in Race and Cultural Studies, Professor Gilroy and Dr Nwonka explored our club's unique and historic relationship to Black Britain and Black London, discovering the cultural contributions made by our Black sporting icons and how their impact often transcended sport, especially during the 1980s and 1990s.

Discussing the project's origins, Nwonka said: “Black Arsenal is the culmination of several years of research and thinking into the quite unique relationship between Arsenal and Black identities, both in British and international contexts. This relationship transcends football.

"We see it in popular and visual culture, music, fashion subcultures, anti-racism movements, organic multiculture and the everyday connections between Black people and culture and society – and, crucially, between each other."

Dr Clive Nwonka and Professor Paul Gilroy

It was recently announced that the Black Arsenal project would serve as the basis for a book, which will be published in autumn 2024 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson. Black Arsenal will see Nwonka and Barbican curator Matthew Harle team up to edit a photographic celebration of Arsenal FC’s “extraordinary” place in Black British social history. 

The synopsis explains: “Arsenal Football Club is a nexus of London’s everyday multiculture. The club’s uniquely convivial fandom reflects the changing city that surrounds it. And over decades of fielding Black footballers who have made iconic contributions to the English game, it has formed a special relationship with Black Britain. Black Arsenal tells the story of a football club that came to stand for much more than the game itself.

“This book will balance serious intellectual enquiry with first-hand experience. It will be told in words and pictures with contributions from a multigenerational range of voices – writers, scholars, prominent fans and the players themselves – and a mixture of eye-catching illustration: from the best sports photography to personal snapshots. An extended introductory essay from Paul Gilroy will offer a wide-ranging consideration of Arsenal’s role in London’s Black history.”

"I’m extremely proud to be bringing what began as a personal exploration of my own Black identity and Arsenal’s Black iconography to fruition through this book,” Nwonka added.

Nwonka is as associate professor in film, culture and society at UCL, and a faculty associate of the UCL Sarah Parker Remond Centre for the Study of Racism and Racialisation. Nwonka’s research centres on the study of Black British and African American film, with a particular focus on images of Black urbanity. In addition, he has published extensively on racial inequality in the creative industries. 

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