Varieties of Belatedness and Provincialism: Decolonisation and British Pop

Wainwright, Leon (2012). Varieties of Belatedness and Provincialism: Decolonisation and British Pop. Art History, 35(2) pp. 442–461.



The social and political changes wrought by decolonisation are overlooked in the study of what gave meaning to British Pop art. The focus has tended to rest instead on how Britain coped with a feeling of lagging behind the United States. In fact, these elements are linked. Taking place at the end of empire, Britain’s Pop art moment was animated by the anachronism of its pretension to remain a global power and its growing provincialism.

A politics of belatedness and provincialism energised the stances of the artists who emerged from the Royal College of Art: canonised figures such as Peter Blake, David Hockney and R.B. Kitaj, and their classmate and contemporary, British Guiana-born artist Frank Bowling. Various forms of alterity were made fashionable, while further ‘outsider’ identities – Bowling’s among them – were misrecognised as irrelevant. These discriminations drawn around a history of migration, transatlantic exchange and decolonisation reveal a deeper logic of space and time for the history of Pop.

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