Born in Iran (Persia) and raised in Devon and India, Barbara Steveni was awarded a scholarship to study at Chelsea School of Art from 1948 – 1951. There she met and married the artist John Latham (1921-2006). They had two sons and a daughter, living in Portland Road, Holland Park, from 1961-79, separating soon afterwards but continuing to work together. From 1985-2020 Barbara lived and worked in her Peckham home.

In 1965 Barbara, then Barbara Latham, conceived the idea for APG (Artist Placement Group), establishing it a year later as a trust. The idea was to expand the reach of art and artists into organisations of all kinds at all levels, including decision-making, and on a basis equivalent to any other engaged specialist. It began with commerce and industry and then turned to governmental organisations. Its founding artists, working in the emergent field of conceptual art and multimedia of that time were Barry Flanagan, David Hall, John Latham, Anna Ridley and Jeffrey Shaw. It was described by Peter Beaumont as ‘one of the most radical social experiments of the Sixties’.[1]

Current interest in this legacy led to two recent APG retrospectives, The Individual and the Organisation: Artist Placement Group 1966-79 at Raven Row Gallery, London 2012, and Context is Half the Work – A Partial History of the Artist Placement Group at Kunstraum Kreuzberg / Bethanien, Berlin 2015, touring to Summerhall, Edinburgh 2016.

In 1989 APG restructured and shifted its emphasis to educational organisations, adopting the name ‘Organisation and Imagination’ (O+I). This renaming was partly in response to the Arts Council having taken the idea of artist placement without the rigorous conceptual basis of APG’s approach. Steveni finalised the acquisition of APG’s archives by the Tate in 2005 and wound up the activities of O+I in 2008.

Barbara’s role in the creation and development of APG, is portrayed in her Artists’ Lives interviews. The continuing relevance of her ideas is evident in the latest iteration of APG/0+I, initiated in 2016 by Barbara Steveni, Neal White, Tina O’Connell, Gareth Bell-Jones and Marsha Bradfield. Renamed the Incidental Unit, it retains the fundamental concepts and processes of APG in generating socially engaged art practice. This third iteration engaged the public in a series of symposia, Incidental Futures (2018 - 19), exploring the legacy and methodology of APG and O+I, held at the South London Gallery and Flat Time House.

Much of the legacy that Steveni created is to be found in her archive rather than in art works. In 2000 she began working on projects that reactivate the archives of APG and O+I. This includes walks, exhibitions and symposia under the project heading I AM AN ARCHIVE (IAAA) 2002 -2015. An O+I educational project and its archive was reactivated in 2017–2018 by Peckham Platform with Barbara Steveni and Barby Asante, culminating in exhibitions at Tate Exchange and Flat Time House.

From 2013-2017 Steveni made a series of films (Conversations Between Ourselves) with women who played a significant part in her Art Life Journey.

[1]  “Artists brush with Policy Makers” The Observer 12 February, 1995