Our Director of Programmes takesover the Contemporary Visual Arts Network East Midlands instagram channel
Hurvin Anderson, Is it okay to be black? 2015, 130 x 100cm, acrylic on canvas. A 70th Anniversary Commission for the Arts Council Collection with New Art Exchange, Nottingham and Thomas Dane Gallery, London. © the artist.
I had prepared some images last week for this IG takeover focussed on New Art Exchange’s forthcoming exhibitions. However, the devastating events in the US over recent weeks and the light this shines on ongoing societal disparity and racism across the globe called for a re-edit.
We stand in solidarity with George Floyd’s family and those protesting in the US. However, we must not forget that discrimination is not that different on this side of the Atlantic or ignore that severe racial inequalities and brutalities against black and minority communities continue to take place here in the UK. As such, I dedicate my posts this week to a selection of NAE artists past and present who speak of these truths and use their platform to educate, advocate and activate.
Is it okay to be black? by Hurvin Anderson was co-commissioned by NAE and the Arts Council Collection for Hurvin’s solo exhibition, Dub Versions, staged at NAE in 2016. The piece later featured as part of Hurvin’s 2017 Turner Prize nomination and exhibition. In Is it OK to be black? Anderson subverts the gaze of the viewer, placing us in the role of sitter, confronted by more or less abstracted images of key figures in black history including Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey. The title of the work poses a clear question, interrogating the viewer, who can no longer remain a passive voyeur, and implicating them in the complexity of race relations, cultural history and notions of ‘otherness’.
Mutumia, 2016, Phoebe Boswell
This is day two of my CVAN EM Instagram takeover and I bring you the incredible Phoebe Boswell. NAE will re-open following the lockdown with a solo exhibition of Phoebe’s work titled Here – not to be missed. On IG today I’ve selected her interactive installation Mutumia (2016) which feels like a fitting tribute all to those currently protesting and campaigning across the globe in the name of Black Lives Matter.
Here is some information on Mutumia: In the large-scale installation Mutumia, which means in Kikuyu not only “woman” but also “the one whos lips are sealed”, Boswell invites us to a protest led by animated women, who together tower over the historically male-dominated art institution. Boswell reminds us of the necessity of raising our voice, and the African-American author Audre Lorde’s famous words “your silence will not protect you” form a strong and challenging sounding board. In Mutumia Boswell gives a voice to those women who are not listened to. In light of the yearning for a sense of belonging and solidarity with the other and the black woman, the voice is an important tool. The nude women depicted look like an assembled army along the gallery wall and are a tribute to those women who have used their bodies in protest actions, but who have not been allowed to use their voices.
The visitor is invited to interact with each of the women via concealed sensors in the floor. When these are activated the women make their voices heard. The more visitors in the gallery, the more voices are activated. Here we encounter a soundtrack of a gospel choir, hear the prominent Kenyan feminists and writers Wumbui Mwangi and Ndinda Kioko reading from their works, and listen to Boswell’s conversations with her mother and other women. www.phoebeboswell.com/ Instagram: .instagram.com/phoebe.boswell
In my first post of this week I reflected on the need to draw parallels with the US – systemic racism, police brutality, and disproportionate rates of arrest and imprisonment are British problems too. In fact, the 2017 Lammy Review revealed there was greater disproportionality in the number of Black people in prisons here in the UK than in the United States.
Barbara Walker’s artworks shown here, call for a look at our own systems of policing. Based in Birmingham Walker’s practice is informed by the social, political and cultural realities that affect her life and the lives of those around her. Walker exhibited in our 2017 NAE exhibition, Untitled: Art on the Conditions of our Times, where we featured work from the Louder than Words series. The collection considers how we form opinions based solely on appearance. Polite Violence and My Song shown here, specifically explore the motives behind, and the impact of police ‘stop and search’, highlighting and questioning the consequences and repercussions for individuals, including her son, who are often judged by the way they look.
The works are created from digital scans of police dockets issued to her son following ‘stop and search’ occurrences. They are overlaid with drawings or paintings depicting the areas around Birmingham where her son was subjected to this police scrutiny. The works give voice to personal experience and frustration while interrogating, on a broader level, the deeper societal implications these decisions and judgements might induce or represent.
Louder Than Words series, Barbara Walker, 2006-09. Polite Violence, 2006,
My Song, 2006, mixed media on digital image, 41 x 55 cm.
I finish my IG take-over with stills from Love is the Message, The Message is Death (2016) by American artist and filmmaker, Arthur Jafa. Earlier this week I said I would feature NAE artists past and future. Strictly speaking, we don’t yet have Arthur signed up to our exhibition programme but it felt like one of the most relevant artworks I could share in the current political moment.
Love is the Message, The Message is Death is by far one of the most powerful artworks I have ever experienced. I first saw it at the Arles Photography festival in 2017. As I watched the seven-minute video over and over I experienced a torrent of emotions ranging from joy, love, admiration and hope, to anger, repulsion, horror and shame.
We are calling on white society to make a change: to be proactively anti-racist, to decolonise our institutions and curriculums, and to educate ourselves on the black experience. Suggestions of texts, novels, history books, films and TV shows are being shared by the bucketload, and should anyone be looking to learn through the medium art, Love is the Message, The Message is Death, is my recommendation.
The video uses contemporary and historical video clips – including pop videos, TV news, and footage from police cameras – to create a montage of African American history and experience. Kanye West’s track Ultralight Beam, envelops the footage. The video includes footage of a civil rights march, former US President Obama singing Amazing Grace at the eulogy for the 9 Charleston parishioners killed by a white supremacist, Martin Luther King waving from the back of a car, Beyoncé in her music video 7/11, and a police officer throwing a teenage girl to the ground at a pool party. These clips are interspersed by footage shot by Jafa himself, including his daughter’s wedding and his mother dancing, mixing his personal experience with a collective one.
One of the most poignant moments in the video for me is when actress Amandla Stenberg, asks, “What would America be like if we loved black people as much as we love black culture?”
For an interview with Arthur Jaffa about this film visit: https://www.anothermag.com/art-photography/12582/arthur-jafa-interview-film-love-is-the-message-moma-akingdoncomethas