Switch House at Tate Modern: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…

Tate Modern's new building, Switch House, designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron.
Tate Modern’s new building, Switch House, designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron. Photo: Carol Dixon (15 June 2016)

It was worth braving the crowds to view the new Switch House extension at Tate Modern on Bankside during its launch week (14-19 June 2016) and explore several new floors of contemporary art from Tate’s permanent collection, as well as selected pieces on temporary display in the featured Artists’ Rooms and themed galleries.

For this inaugural summer season the Switch House displays presented on Levels 2 to 4 of the new 10-storey twisted pyramid-shaped building were designed to tell the story of “how art became active from the 1960s” through to the present day.

A spider sculpture by the French-American sculptor Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010)
A spider sculpture by the French-American sculptor Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010)

The light, spacious and angular galleries featured a combination of assemblages devoted to the work of individual artists – such as Louise Bourgeois, displayed in the east wing of Level 4 – as well as thematic, narrative-led presentations documenting how contemporary artists have represented their perspectives on modern life through different genres and forms of visual art: from contemporary paintings and sculptures, through to more experimental audio-visual presentations, mixed-media installations and performance works.

Exhibition view of the themed gallery “Between Object and Architecture” at Tate Modern’s Switch House.

Continue reading Switch House at Tate Modern: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…

Navigating the Dreams of an Icon: The Cy Grant Archives at the LMA – a new heritage initiative for 2016/17

The Cy Grant Trust – working in partnership with the education charity Windrush Foundation  and London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) – recently received a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to catalogue the archives of the writer, actor, musician, barrister and equalities campaigner, Cy Grant (1919-2010).

A photograph of RAF Flight Lieutenant Cy Grant.
A photograph of RAF Flight Lieutenant Cy Grant.

Cyril Ewart Lionel Grant (known as ‘Cy’) was born in Guyana in 1919 and served as a Flight Lieutenant and navigator in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War before settling in the UK to train and qualify as a barrister. As a result of the extreme racism encountered in post-war Britain, Cy was unable to pursue his chosen career in the legal sector, so instead sought work in the entertainment industry using his talents as a singer/songwriter, actor and musician – quickly rising to national prominence in the 1950s and 1960s as one of the few people of Caribbean descent to regularly appear on British television at that time. Over several decades Cy Grant made a substantial contribution to the arts and to broadcasting in Britain, always actively supporting fellow diasporan arts practitioners from Africa and the Caribbean to help them secure professional positions and contracts within British theatre, the UK film and music industries, and the wider literary and performing arts arenas. Continue reading Navigating the Dreams of an Icon: The Cy Grant Archives at the LMA – a new heritage initiative for 2016/17

Conference on African diaspora and European cultural heritage, University of Tampere (Finland) 6-8 July 2017

The 6th ‘Afroeuropeans’ biennial network conference will take place at the University of Tampere, Finland, 6-8 July 2017. The general theme is African diaspora and European cultural heritage. Submissions are encouraged exploring the topics below as well as proposals on other topics related to African/Black European communities and cultures:

  • African diaspora and European cultural heritage
  • Policing blackness; African/Black European politics
  • Shifting political landscapes and European post-colonial discontents
  • Afroeuropean mediascapes; Diaspora communities online; Diasporic experience and digital media
  • Social justice and human rights in AfroEurope
  • Performing africanness/blackness in Europe
  • Writing and translating new African diaspora and black identities in Europe
  • Afroeuropean music cultures; Afroeuropean dance scenes
  • Blackness in visual arts in Europe
  • Children of the African diaspora in Europe; Afroeuropean youth cultures
  • AfroQueer Europe; Afroeuropean feminisms
  • Global racisms and AfroEurope
  • Refugees from Africa in Europe

Proposed sessions should be organized to be 90 minutes in length, and each speaker (3-4 per session) should be given 15-20 minutes for his/her presentation.

For further information about the call for papers and abstract submission (by the deadline: 24 February 2017), please visit the University of Tampere website at http://www.uta.fi/yky/en/6thafroeuropeans/callforsessions.html.

Details about the previous conference, held at the University of Münster (Germany), feature in the blog post Memory and Museums at ‘AfroEuropeans V’.

Thin Black Lines: marking time – on faces, within networks, and in exhibition spaces…

As I stood in front of Jelena Bulajic’s large-scale portrait of Alise Lange (2013) mesmerised by the network of fine wrinkles covering her face,  my momentary thoughts merged with memories of another contemporary artwork that came back to mind in sharp focus – the image of Lubaina Himid’s topological art map, Thin Black Line(s) (2011).

Portrait of Alise Lange (2013) by Jelena Bulajic. Mixed media on canvas. 270 x 200 cm. Photo: Carol Dixon

In Bulajic’s work, her mixed-media artistic cartography of facial lines signified one elderly woman’s life history over several decades, and also served to illustrate the wider curatorial context to the London-based international group show of works by 14 women artists within which it was being shown –  Champagne Life (Saatchi Gallery, London, 13 January – 9 March 2016). Although very different in its composition, Lubaina Himid’s artwork also mapped out women’s lives. However, rather than creating a close-up image of one woman  to symbolise the complexities of our universal human condition, she chose instead to map diverse cultural and socio-political connections between several black British female artists from the UK’s African and Asian diasporas as a network diagram similar in appearance to Harry Beck’s topological map of the London Underground.

Thin Black Lines (2011) by Lubaina Himid.
Thin Black Line(s) (2011) by Lubaina Himid – a diagram illustrating “moments and connections” between all the diasporan women artists who showed work in exhibitions at the Africa Centre, Battersea Arts Centre and the ICA in London during the 1980s, displayed at Tate Britain in 2011-12.

Continue reading Thin Black Lines: marking time – on faces, within networks, and in exhibition spaces…

Activism and Scholarship: Achieving the “Plenitude of Blackness”

The Black Studies Association conference – “Blackness in Britain 2015: ‘The Black Special Relationship'” (held at Birmingham City University, 30-31 October 2015) – explored the nature of black activism within and beyond the UK higher education sector, with a particular focus on the historical and contemporary impacts of  African-American scholarship on black intellectual life in Britain.

Established and early career researchers from a range of institutions within the Euro-American academy joined educationalists and grassroots activists from the wider public sphere to present panels on themes that included: Race Politics in Urban Settings; Black Feminist Resistance, African-centered Thought and Healing; Representation and Communication; Educational Experiences; Pedagogy, Curriculum and Theory; Black Political Activism; Literature, Film and Art History; and Blackness in Europe.

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Conference convenor Dr Kehinde Andrews welcomes delegates to the event and introduces Professor Gus John (seated right) as the opening keynote speaker at Birmingham City University, 30 October 2015.

It was fitting that the opening keynote address was given by Professor Gus John, who succinctly historicised the way activist-scholars drawn from the global African diaspora(s) have joined forces at pivotal moments -– such as the inaugural Pan-African Conference held in London in 1900, and the Pan-African Congress held in Manchester in 1945 – to align localised anti-colonial struggles against oppression and successfully instigate world-wide movements of resistance. His talk also emphasised the need to be vigilant and proactive in our campaigns to revise, progress and expand Black Studies curricula across the educational phases – especially as this was seen as key to challenging the ongoing omissions, erasures and marginalisation of Africa-related achievements within established canons of knowledge. Continue reading Activism and Scholarship: Achieving the “Plenitude of Blackness”