Syd Shelton: Rock Against Racism


Syd Shelton: Rock Against Racism, captures one of the most exciting and turbulent political periods in British post-war history. Prevalent between 1976 to 1981 Rock Against Racism (RAR) was a ground-breaking movement formed by a collective of musicians and political activists to confront racist ideology in the streets, parks and town halls of Britain through music.

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, RAR marked the rising resistance to violent and institutionalised racism. Legendary performers included The Clash, Misty in Roots, Aswad, X-Ray Spex, Elvis Costello, Tom Robinson and The Specials.

Shelton captured the history-making RAR Carnival at Victoria Park, London in 1978 attended by 100,000 people and pivotal moments such as the Anti National Front demonstration in Lewisham in 1977.

In the five years that Rock Against Racism operated, the National Front lost support and any hope of winning and election.  Shelton says, ‘I hope the exhibition shows that you can change things and you can actually take a stand, even in the most difficult of situations.’ A message that is still very relevant today.

Syd Shelton: Rock Against Racism revisits the energy of RAR, the creative entanglement of black and white musicians, designers, writers, actors, performers and supporters who produced 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. This online exhibition showcases over fifty images from the exhibition.



All artworks in this online exhibition © Syd Shelton, unless otherwise stated. All artwork is courtesy of the artist and Autograph, London.

Rock Against Racism is curated by Mark Sealy, Director of Autograph, London and Carol Tulloch, Professor of Dress, Diaspora and Transnationalism at University of the Arts, London.


About Syd Shelton

Syd Shelton is a photographer and graphic designer. He studied fine art at Wakefield College of Art. In the early 1970s he moved to Australia and began his photograph practice.

In 1976 Syd returned to London and established the design and photograpy partnership ‘Hot Pink Heart/Red Wedge Graphics’ which evolved into his current company ‘Graphicsi’. He was a photographer and one of the designers of Rock Against Racism magazine Temporary Hoarding (1976 to 1981).