The Caribbean Artists Movement (CAM) originated in London in late 1966. The intention was to create a forum for writers, artists and critics from the English-speaking Caribbean, resident at that time in the United Kingdom. A major literary and cultural movement developed which expanded beyond West Indian writers and artists to encompass members from the United Kingdom, Europe, Africa, Black America and the Commonwealth. Talks, discussions, conferences, recitals and art exhibitions provided an opportunity to explore new directions in Caribbean arts and culture at a time of political and social change.
There were three co-founders of the movement: Edward Kamau Brathwaite (1930-2020), the poet, literary critic and historian born in Barbados; the poet, novelist, academic and broadcaster Andrew Salkey (1928-1995) born in Jamaica and the political and cultural activist, poet, essayist and publisher John La Rose (1927-2006) born in Trinidad.
The co-founders were concerned that many Caribbean writers and artists were being marginalised and did not have the opportunity to meet up and discuss their work and interests. The idea of forming a structured organisation was rejected in favour of a forum to allow people to meet in a more informal way. There was no group ideology or manifesto defined in advance, and any attempts to convert CAM into a Black Power movement were strongly resisted. CAM can be seen as part of a wider movement for change in Caribbean society. Writers, artists, dramatists, actors, publishers, critics and students were all encouraged to join. CAM was inclusive rather than exclusive and essentially open to anyone who wanted to share and understand the needs and aspirations of Caribbean artists.
A small informal meeting was held in private on 19 December 1966 at the flat of Edward and Doris Brathwaite in Mecklenburgh Square, London. The three co-founders were present along with the writers and critics Louis James and Orlando Patterson, the playwright and scriptwriter Evan Jones and Anthony Haynes. A 'dialogue' was proposed for 6 January 1967 on the subject of 'Is There a West Indian Aesthetic?' to be delivered to the group in the London residence of Orlando Patterson. The artist Aubrey Williams was also invited to join the group. The first talk and discussion was considered a success and at the end of this meeting the name 'Caribbean Artists Movement', suggested by Nerys Patterson, was decided upon by those present.
Informal meetings and discussions continued in private, held in members' flats and residences in London. But there was always the intention to meet in a public place, to create a dialogue with readers, writers, artists and critics. CAM was officially launched into the public domain on 10 March 1967 with a symposium 'New Directions in West Indian Writing', held at the West Indian Students Centre (WISC). This took place a week after the successful public reading by Brathwaite of his work 'Rights of Passage' presented by New Beacon Publications and the London Traverse Theatre Company and held at the Jeanetta Cochrane Theatre, London on 3 March 1967.
The WISC in Collingham Gardens, Earls Court became the main venue for public sessions. The building was not restricted to students and had become a venue where West Indians traditionally met. CAM public sessions or symposia were held monthly from March 1967 onwards, encompassing talks, panel discussions, readings and book stalls, including access to books brought in by John La Rose and Sarah White from the recently established New Beacon Publications. Other suitable venues were chosen for CAM art exhibitions, visits to artists' studios and theatrical works.
Three annual conferences were held. The first two in 1967 and 1968 were held at the University of Kent, Canterbury whilst a joint conference between CAM and the West Indian Students Union was held at the WISC in 1969.
Established writers and artists such as C.L.R. James, Wilson Harris, Ronald Moody and Aubrey Williams, along with the co-founders of the movement, were active in CAM from the beginning. They were joined by writers and critics such as Orlando Patterson, Louis James, Kenneth Ramchand, Gordon Rohlehr and Ivan Van Sertima. Younger members included James Berry, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Christopher Laird and Errol Lloyd.
The most active period for CAM was 1966-1972, although its impact can be traced through to the early 1990s with the publication of Savacou: A Journal of the Caribbean Artists Movement. Many CAM members also went on to participate in the International Book Fairs of Radical Black and Third World Books (1982-1995).
This collection is the product of extensive research undertaken by Anne Walmsley for the creation of her book The Caribbean Artists Movement 1966-1972: A Literary and Cultural History published by New Beacon Books in 1992.