The vibrant colours of the entrance invite you into a wonderland-esque universe full of Black creativity spanning the past 50 years. The animated hues continue to guide you through the exhibition with each door being distinct in colour allowing for a different theme, a different experience.
Now that the exhibition is over, I reflect on its success and how it has impacted the future of Black British Art. Get Up, Stand Up Now was curated by Zak Ové, a British visual artist whose practice comments on diasporic and African history. Regarding the exhibition, Ové mentions, “what I’m excited about within the scope of this exhibition is putting into context a sense of history. So we can recognize who these Black pioneers were and what their struggles were; how they came together as a group prior to the digital age; how they found one another, that sense of community; and, on a bigger scale, that this was part of a much broader political fight being fought globally, that we are continuing today.”
The eyes of Loretta follow your every step as you navigate the various artworks in the room. While being watched by an art piece can at times feel eerie, Loretta’s gaze seemed comforting, like a mother watching out for you. A mother who is not going to allow nonsense to happen, she’d do everything in her power to protect you. I felt at ease. The rooms were full of pieces ranging from photography, painting, literature, music, and film creating a fully immersive experience.
The exhibition was a nod towards the celebration of the Black British artists that are out there, but also made sure to bring up for conversation and question the issues that still need to be faced. There’s a lack of diversity in the arts and this needs to be changed. Although it’s clear that this situation is slowly but surely progressing, we need to understand that there is still a long way to go and we shouldn’t slow down or settle.
Starting with the Windrush Generation, a group that comprises “British citizens who came to the UK from the Commonwealth as children…whose rights were guaranteed in the Immigration Act of 1971,” with the likes of Yinka Shonibare, the exhibition looks at diasporic connections. Connections between communities in Africa, America, and the Carribean.
The other end of the corridor features the work of Victor Ekpuk, a Nigerian-American artist whose work reflects indigenous African philosophies. His site-specific piece Shrine to Wisdom (2019), “creates an Afrofuturistic mural and temple to learning, with bespoke table and seating by exhibition designer Yinka Ilori.” The safe space allowed room for one to sit down and read over the various books made available. Books such as Covers. Retracing Reggae Record Sleeves in London by Alex Bartsch and Victor Ekpuk. Connecting Lines Across Space and Time edited by Toyin Falola.
To exit the exhibition, one had to go through the exhibition shop which ended up being a glorious treasure trove of clothes, accessories, homeware and oh so many amazing books and magazines by black British artists and authors.
Overall, this exhibition was something which was very much needed. It was a very well-curated exhibition that championed the works of Black British artists, and the work of all the artists was truly brought to life in this space. It felt like a whole new world which I did not want to leave. Although I left, I left feeling hopeful for the future of Black British artists.
So more of these events, please.