Syd Shelton
Rock Against Racism




Free exhibition

Side Gallery in partnership with Autograph ABP and in conjunction with Freedom City Festival is bringing an exhibition of Syd Shelton’s photographs capturing one of the most intriguing and contradictory political periods in British post-war history to the North East.

Between 1976 and 1981, the movement Rock Against Racism (RAR) confronted racist ideology in the streets, parks and town halls of Britain. RAR was formed by a collective of musicians and political activists to fight fascism and racism through music. Under the slogan 'Love Music, Hate Racism', it 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, RAR marked the rising resistance to violent and institutionalised racism. A selection of 21 images from Rock Against Racism will be exhibited in Side Gallery’s Project Space, Newcastle from 21 October until 17 December, 2017 and will complement the main exhibition, Gordon Parks: A Choice of Weapons, which highlights the struggle African Americans endured whilst fighting for equality in America. Admission is free to both exhibitions.

Syd Shelton’s photographs document the volatility 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 skinheads danced to Jamaican ska, punks embraced reggae and black kids reached out to punk. 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. As Shelton says: ‘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 electoral threat into political oblivion.’

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.

Also at Side Gallery

Gordon Parks
A Choice of Weapons

21 October - 17 December 2017

Read more »

About Syd Shelton

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.

About Freedom City

Freedom City 2017 is a city-wide programme across Newcastle marking the 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. receiving an honorary degree from Newcastle University. Featuring a large-scale outdoor event, thought-provoking theatre, inspiring exhibitions, uplifting musical performances, world-class academic research and more, Freedom City 2017 takes place at venues and public spaces across Newcastle and Gateshead throughout the year.

Inspired by the themes of Dr King’s acceptance speech at Newcastle University, Freedom City 2017 brings international artists, musicians, filmmakers, academics and community groups together to inspire them to help tackle the three ‘urgent and great problems’ highlighted in Dr King’s speech ‘the problem of racism, the problem of poverty and the problem of war’.

About Side Gallery

Established in 1977, by the Amber Film & Photography Collective, its mission is to to enrich people’s lives through powerful, challenging, innovative and inspirational experiences in visual storytelling, that speaks authentically from, to and beyond working class, diverse, marginalised and threatened lives, communities and landscapes. Read more at www.amber-online.com>

Directions and opening hours

5-9 Side
Newcastle upon Tyne

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Exhibition opening times

Tuesday to Sunday
11am to 5pm

  • Clifton Rise, Lewisham, London 13 August 1977. Civil liberties activist Darcus Howe addresses 'Anti-Anti Mugging March' demonstrators
  • Brick Lane, London, 1980. The scene of countless Anti-fascist demonstrations