Syd Shelton
Rock Against Racism


Yhteisötalo Messi

Kotka, Finland

Touring exhibition, free admission

Rock Against Racism, a major exhibition of photographs by Syd Shelton, is touring to Messi in Kotka, Finland.

Syd Shelton’s photographs capture one of the most intriguing and contradictory political periods in British post war period: The Rock Against Racism (RAR) movement. Between 1976 and 1981, RAR confronted racist ideology in the streets, parks and town halls of Britain and was formed by a collective of musicians and political activists to fight fascism and racism through music.

The movement did not have an official photographer and Shelton has produced the largest collection of images of RAR. The photographs in Rock Against Racism document the vitality of a country divided across race, class and gender. They expose the ferocity of cultural difference being hammered out on Britain’s streets through the late 1970s, at a time when racist skinheads danced to Jamaican ska, punks embraced reggae and black kids reached out to punk.

“In collaboration with UK reggae and punk bands, RAR members took on the orthodoxy through five carnivals and some 500 gigs throughout Britain. In those five years, the National Front went from a serious electrical threat into a political oblivion.”

Under the slogan “Love Music, Hate Racism”, RAR showcased reggae and punk bands on the same stage, attracting large multicultural audiences. At a time when the fascist attitudes of the National Front were gaining support, this movement marked the rising resistance to violent and institutionalised racism.

Rock Against Racism revisits the energy of RAR, the creative entanglement of black and white musicians, designers, writers, actors, performers and supporters who produced effective counter-narratives to whiteness as superior and blackness as alienated. Shelton’s photographs remind us that RAR was a particular treatise on belonging in Britain.

Shelton photographed performers such as The Clash, Elvis Costello, Misty in Roots, Tom Robinson, Au Pairs and The Specials as well as the audiences at RAR gigs and carnivals across England. He captured the history-making RAR carnival 1 at Victoria Park, London in 1978, and demonstrations such as the Anti National Front Demonstration in Lewisham in 1977. Shelton also took contextual social and cultural images that informed the politics of the movement across England and Ireland.


Syd Shelton is a British photographer and graphic designer. He has worked in Europe, Australia and the United States. He co-edited and was art director of a series of photographic books: 24 Hours in Los Angeles (1984), the award winning Day in the Life of London(1984) and Ireland: A Week in the Life of a Nation (1986). His work was recently included in the exhibition Words, Sound and Power: Reggae Changed My Life at The British Music Experience: Britain’s Museum of Popular Music, O2 Arena, London (2012) and The Photographer’s Gallery exhibition The World in London.



Yhteisötalo Messi
Kirkkokatu 22 A-B 48100 Kotka

Opening Hours

Monday - Friday 9:00 - 20:00
Closed for Autumn Break 23/10 - 27/10 and 30/10 - 31/10
Limited opening hours of 17:00 - 20:00 between 01/11 - 03/11

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  • Jubilee Street, Stepney, London 1977
  • John Segs Jennings of The Ruts, Militant Entertainment Tour, Leicester 1979