On 20th and 21st February 2015 Tate Britain hosted a two-day event to explore a number of themes about representations of African and Asian people and their diasporic descendents within European art history. The symposium was scheduled to complement the display ‘Spaces of Black Modernism: London 1919–39’ – co-curated by Dr Caroline Bressey and Dr Gemma Romain (The Equiano Centre, University College London), and currently on view at Tate Britain until October 2015.
Through a carefully assembled programme of talks, film screenings and audio-visual provocations the title ‘The Black Subject: Ancient to Modern’ was brought to life by a diverse group of scholars from the fields of visual arts, curating, art history and the social sciences – with each participant offering unique insights into changing representations of the black image within artworks from the Tate’s British art collection, other UK art institutions, and European museums and galleries more broadly.
Friday’s session featured a screening of Borderline (1930) – an avant-garde silent movie created by British film director Kenneth Macpherson, starring African-American actors Paul Robeson and Eslanda (‘Essie’) Robeson. The resulting Q&A critiqued the complexities of the featured relationships that addressed inter-sected issues about ‘inter-racial’ intimacy, gender identities, notions of belonging and sexuality ‘across the colour line’.
Saturday’s symposium was arranged into four chronological and thematic sessions, considering: (1) the ongoing tensions that can arise during the process of documenting the longevity of the black presence whilst simultaneously noting the continuous absences, erasures and distortions of African, Asian and diasporic contributions within British art history; (2) photographic images and illustrations of black Victorians sourced from a range of public and private archives; (3) two case studies about artists’ models from early 20th century and inter-war colonial periods – specifically the life of the Jamaican artistic model Patrick Nelson (1916-1963), presented in Gemma Romain’s paper “Patrick Nelson: Identity, queerness and love in the life of a black artists’ model in interwar Britain”; and the lives of Dr Roshan McClenahan’s famous Indian aunts ‘Sunita and Anita’ who both modelled for artist Sir Jacob Epstein; (4) re-imagining and pluralising the modernist canon as global, hybrid and ‘multi-polar’, envisioned via scholarship about the life and work of the Indian modernist Jamini Roy, presented by Professor Partha Mitter.
‘American Policing: Lessons on Resistance’ is the title of a panel discussion that took place at the Schomburg in New York on 18th February 2015 as a follow-up conversation to their recent town-hall-style debate on ‘American Policing: The War on Black Bodies’. The session featured wide-ranging commentary on issues related to police brutality, racial discrimination, ‘stop and frisk’/’stop and search’ policies, and community-led responses to the killing of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Aiyana Stanley-Jones and others in recent news.
The panel discussion was moderated by writer Mychal Denzel Smith (The Nation), with contributions from the following four political activists and social commentators: Ashley Yates (poet and co-creator of Millennial Activists United), Dante Barry (Director of Million Hoodies Movement for Justice), Philip Agnew (Co-founder of Dream Defenders) and Cherrell Brown (National Organizer with Equal Justice USA). Closing comments were also provided by Dr Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
Central to the debate were questions about what justice might look like if black lives actually mattered in the USA; strategies for restructuring, de-militarizing and dismantling policing systems so that their historical origins in the States as organisations founded on the surveillance and restriction of the lives, mobilities and freedoms of black and brown people did not continue to perpetuate racialized discrimination; critiquing the complexities of campaigning against the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) and the increasing monetization of incarcerated black bodies; envisioning safe communities; aligning anti-racist political activism with wider education and culture agendas – including activism via the arts; routes into community-based activism and leadership for young people; self-esteem/’self-love’/self-care and spirituality issues within movements for social change; and effective ways to disseminate counter-narratives to help challenge the normalisation of privileged white citizenship to the detriment of others’ lived realities.
The following article by art critic Elsa Guily (published online by Contemporary And (C&) magazine) reviews the exhibition ‘Wir sind alle Berliner: 1884-2014’ curated by Simon Njami (and displayed at SAVVY Contemporary, Berlin, 15 November 2014 – 11 January 2015).
Within this exhibition, the 12 featured artists – Kader Attia, Theo Eshetu, Satch Hoyt, Cyrill Lachauer, Henrike Naumann, Katarina Zdjelar, Bili Bidjocka, Thabiso Sekgala, Sammy Baloji, Filipa César, Mansour Ciss, and Nadia Kaabi-Linke – each present contemporary reflections on the historical, social-economic, geo-political and cultural impacts of the colonial ‘scramble for Africa’ Berlin Conference of 1884.
One of the images featured in the review piece (shown above) is a photograph of the installation ‘Laboratoire de Déberlinisation’ created by the Berlin-based Senegalese artist Mansour Ciss.This conceptual artwork was first developed by Ciss in 2001 and has been described by the artist as a project for encouraging trans-national ‘North-South’ and ‘Eurafrican’ dialogues about the politics of globalisation in the post-colonial era, and also as a symbolic representation of the intersectional space where “the idealism of art meets the realities of geopolitics and economics.”
How timely to be currently on a research trip in Paris just as the campaign against the presentation of Brett Bailey’s ‘Exhibit B’ (Human Zoo) installation is taking shape and gaining momentum in the French capital.
Over the past few days I have been inspired by the passion and commitment of the Parisian campaign organisers “Collectif CONTRE-Exhibit B” – a recently established collective of writers, artists and political activists who are working tirelessly to spread the word about the problematic content of Brett Bailey’s live performance project so that prospective audiences will not attend… and also to alert the wider public in France about the inappropriate, inaccurate, insensitive and offensive content in this (so called) theatre arts piece (NB: Please see my earlier blog posts for a description about the content of ‘Exhibit B’ here).
Many high-profile academics, cultural commentators, writers and performance artists – including the celebrated French-language novelist (of Guadeloupean heritage) Maryse Condé, the political scientist Professor Françoise Vergès, and the French songwriter and recording artist Bams – have added their names and voices to the ‘anti-Exhibit B’ campaign, and are helping to communicate a strong and unified perspective about how dangerous it is for an ill-informed theatre director like Brett Bailey to pursue a project dealing with the physical violence, psychological traumas and painful legacies of past 19th century colonial racisms by falsely depicting African people as silent and passive participants in this historical narrative. Continue reading “Collectif CONTRE-Exhibit B”: The campaign against Brett Bailey’s ‘Human Zoo’ installation gains pace in Paris…
A recent series of articles posted to the AADAT(African & Afro-Diasporan Art Talks) website features a selection of visual artists described as “14 Contemporary Artists Who Are Challenging the Definition of African Art.”
The listing was compiled by art historian Martina Dodd and (at the time of writing this blog) features the following 8 out of 14 leading lights ( with the remaining 6 artists due to be published in the concluding section of the series later in the year):
Rotimi Fani-Kayode (Nigeria)
Samuel Fosso (Cameroon)
Ousmane Sow (Senegal)
Sokari Douglas Camp (Nigeria)
Yinka Shonibare MBE (RA) (Nigeria)
Romuald Hazoumé (Benin)
Hassan Musa (Sudan)
Ouattara Watts (Cote D’Ivoire/Ivory Coast)
Although not arranged into any particular hierarchy or rank order, the featured selection are nevertheless the product of the author’s own subjective musings about who should be considered as global change-makers and innovators within the context of contemporary African arts, and the list was deliberately not compiled according to a pre-determined set of aesthetic selection criteria against which prospective entrants might be assessed, compared and contrasted. Continue reading Africa’s contemporary art change-makers – Who would feature at the top of your list?