Islington, London: Oscar Abrams (1937–1996) and Keskidee Arts Centre

Bob Marley sings into a microphone as two girls dance behind him and children sit and watch.
  Reproduced by kind permission of Urbanimage Music Photographic Archive




Islington, London

Guyanese architect and cultural activist Oscar Abrams came to London in 1958. He became chairman of the Islington branch of the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination (CARD) fighting for better housing and access to education for those newly arrived from the Caribbean.

Photo of Oscar Abrams. A Black man with glasses, grey hair and beard, black moustache, wearing a casual white top and grey jacket.
                Oscar Abrams. Credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London LMA/4463/C/09/04/004, from the Eric & Jessica Huntley Collection

In 1971 Abrams bought a building in Gifford Street, Islington, and set up the Keskidee Theatre Workshop to nurture talent and give Black youth a space of their own. For many years, Keskidee was the only dedicated space in London for Black actors, dramatists and technicians.

A community discovering itself creates its own future.

Keskidee was the first Black arts centre in Britain and had an international impact promoting emerging artists from Africa and the Caribbean. It became known across the world, leading to theatre tours of Europe and the 1979 Keskidee Aroha tour of New Zealand. 

In 1978 Bob Marley filmed the video for Is this Love? at the centre, which also starred a young Naomi Campbell.

Bob Marley video for Is This Love, filmed at the Keskidee Centre.

In the 1970s the dub poet and activist Linton Kwesi Johnson worked at Keskidee Arts Centre as library and education officer. He staged his poem Voices of the Living and the Dead there. 

A Black man and woman dance in the middle of a room whilst a crowd of children sit on the floor watching them.
Performance at the Keskidee Arts Centre.
Credit:  London Metropolitan Archives, City of London LMA/4463/C/09/04/004, from the Eric and Jessica Huntley Collection

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