k e i t h p i p e r 'Go West Young Man'
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Go West Young Man

The concept for the work ‘Go West Young Man’ was initially triggered by an act of juxtaposing the notoriously graphic engraved plan of the English slave ship, ‘The Brookes’, first published in 1788 by the Plymouth Chapter of the ‘Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade’, with Horace Greeley’s evocative call of 1865 for white male settlement of the American Prairie.

I first juxtaposed these two signs within an artwork in the late 1970s whilst still at school with little knowledge of the specific provenance of either the image or the text. I was however struck by the ironic tension generated between this optimistic invocation to embrace the ‘west’ and all that it offered, and the harsh realities of the forced transportation of African peoples into the western hemisphere via the terrors of the ‘middle passage’.

My earliest version of this work was a small framed image and text piece produced in 1979 (reproduced above) and displayed in the exhibition ‘Black Art an’ Done’ in 1981.

The work then progressed through a number of iterations, such as such as a 6ft by 4ft mixed media work from 1982. (right)

In 1997, in response to a commission by the Ikon Gallery ‘Community Touring Programme’, I developed this work into a series of 14 narrative panels using photomontage and text. (below)

Go West 1987 Panel 1

This work started with a response to Greeley’s call with the ironic first-person comment:

“Go West Young Man,
I first heard that joke 400 years ago.
I died laughing.

Been dying with monotonous regularity ever since”

This became a means of exploring a series of sequential historical moments through which black masculinity had been framed, distorted and mythologised. It formed the basis for what eventually became the sequence of fourteen hand-tinted xerographs that were laminated and toured to community venues in the West Midlands by the Ikon Gallery in 1987-1988.

The original series of gelatin silver prints from which these xerographs were generated was purchased was by the Tate in 2008.

The narrative structure of ‘Go West Young Man’ was further developed into a computer animation produced using a ‘Commodore Amiga’ as part of the ‘Animate’ series funded by the Arts Council of England and Channel 4 in 1996.  

In a reworking of a theme from earlier collage and photographic work, within this work a father and son analyse stereotypes of race and gender within a personal/historical survey of racism.

Director Keith Piper 
Father's voice Hayden Forde 
Son's voice Wilbert Johnson
Animator Keith Piper
Music Derek Richards 
Sound Designer Derek Richards 
Producer Janice Cheddie