In May 1974, artists David Medalla, Cecilia Vicuña, John Dugger and art critic Guy Brett co-founded the artist collective, Artists for Democracy (AFD). AFD was formed initially to raise support for democracy in Chile after the military coup in 1973, and to give “material and cultural support to liberation movements worldwide”, using art as “a way of making global political struggles visible”. A previous collective group established in 1971 by Medalla and Dugger — the Artists Liberation Front — was the precursor to AFD and shared some of the same members and political agenda
AFD arranged the Arts Festival for Democracy in Chile at the Royal College of Art in October 1974 — a significant cultural event with many well-known international and British artists, speakers, dancers and musicians taking part in the events that were held over two weeks.
In November that same year, AFD soon regrouped after post-Festival internal divisions, and David Medalla and collaborators squatted a building at 143 Whitfield Street, which later became known as the Fitzrovia Cultural Centre. With the cooperation and assistance of many artists, friends and supporters, Medalla and Brett set up this ambitiously named, unorthodox “cultural centre” as a tangible space outside the artworld mainstream where they could expand and continue AFD activities.
AFD launched a new programme while maintaining the ethos of organization by consensus established during the Chile Festival: there was no set curatorial position and anyone who wanted to be involved simply turned up. Proposals for exhibitions or events were discussed and agreed at regular meetings of the members and participants.
The public programme opened in February 1975 with a show of AFD artists’ work in progress and continued with solo shows and installations by artists including Tina Keane, Lynn MacRitchie, Rasheed Araeen, Dom Sylvester Houédard, Virgil Calaguian, Charles Hustwick, and Stephen Cripps. The many group exhibitions included “Victory to People’s War” and “Living Words, Living Images — Festival of Progressive Poetry and Art” — these events were accompanied by slide shows, video and film screenings, performances, lectures and discussions, maintaining a progressive artistic and political agenda.
With recent international interest in the activities of several individual AFD artist members, and in the ideas of these “cultural workers” of the 1970s, it is timely to revisit and examine the collective organisation they co-founded. It feels appropriate that this first exhibition devoted to AFD takes place in another historic counter-cultural space in central London — The Horse Hospital.
Artists for Democracy 1974-1977: Tuesday to Saturday, 12pm to 5pm, from Saturday 18 February to Saturday 11 March 2023. England & Co at The Horse Hospital, Colonnade, London WC1N 1JD.