Narratives of the Black British Experience: A Review

Event:

Narratives of the Black British Experience

From the 1950s – 1990s

Staying Power: Identity and Experience in Photographs

Friday 22nd May at the V & A

The event took place at the Victoria and Albert Museum and was the first day of a two day event which, along with the exhibitions at the V & A and The Black Cultural Museum were the culmination of a seven year project. ‘Staying Power’ is a project that aims is to increase the amount of black photographers and images of black Britain in the V & A’s permanent collection as well as promoting the important contribution of black British culture in Britain’s social and cultural history.

The daylong event took the format of a series of chaired conversations. Speakers were asked to choose a number of photographs from the exhibition and talk about these in relation to their own experiences.

After an introduction from Janet Browne & Matty Pye from the V & A learning department, the first conversation began. Jacqueline Springer chaired the conversation between Writer, DJ and Activist Chardine Taylor-Stone and Activist & Writer Stella Dadzie.

Dadzie chose pictures from the 1995 series of self-portraits ‘Untitled’ by Maxine Walker. She talked about Walker’s portraits, which show the same artist reinventing her image through her changing clothes, hair and make up. She continued to talk about her own often painful journey of transformation after transformation in order to feel accepted as a young black woman of an English mother in Britain.

Taylor-Stone chose pictures, which portrayed sub cultures. The first picture was of an early British female hip-hop group and she also showed images of a dancehall dancer wearing a home made outfit.The two speakers debated whether flaunting one’s body in revealing clothing and dancing in a sexualised way as depicted in on of Taylor-Stone’s selected images was an empowering expression of black culture or whether it objectified and disempowered women.

Next we heard from Photographer Syd Shelton in conversation with Karen Alexander, film and moving image curator, advisor and researcher. Shelton showed his own photographs which documented Britain in the 70’s and 80’s during the time when he was involved in Rock Against Racism a series of concerts across the UK which were organised to deliver an anti racism message

The Islington Twins in conversation with Paul Goodwin, Curator and Professor of Black Art & Design, UAL.

The Islington Twins – Chuka and Dubem Okonkwo are the subjects of many photographs from the 1980s to present day. Dressed in immaculate matching outfits, the twins spoke about their careers as style icons who dressed as mods in their teens and walked around pretending that they were being photographed in their clothes, before long people began to take notice and in 1980 their appeared in The Face Magazine.

The Twins raised the issue of the subject’s rights when being photographed. They and photographers had never seen 90 percent of the images taken of the twins were the people making money from their creativity.

In the afternoon Michael McMillan, Playwright, Artist and Curator chaired a conversation with Photographers, James Barnor, Neil Kenlock and Photographer, Artist, Director Pogus Ceaser.

Barnor took photographs for Drum magazine, a South African magazine mainly aimed at Black Africans, which was famous for it’s reportage of township life under the apartheid. Ghanaian Barnor, often set his portraits against typical London backdrops, one of the photographs he showed was of Ghanian broadcaster Mike Eghan who presented a talkshow for BBC World service. Eghan is depicted in a celebratory pose in front Piccadilly Circus.

Jamaican born, Neil Kenlock moved to London in the 1960’s. He showed pictures taken by himself in the homes of British Caribbean families, he explained that people would often ask for a photographer to come and photograph family members in their homes, posing in their living rooms with their nice new decor and mod cons, to show their family back in the Caribbean how they had been successful in making a comfortable home for themselves in Britain. As Kenlock said, they wanted to show people that they had ‘made it’. Neil also became involved with the British Black Panthers and was asked to take pictures for them. In stark contrast to the colourful home portraits Neil also showed a black and white photograph of a young woman pointing to graffiti written on the door of the International Personnel training centre in Balham, which read ‘Keep Britain White’.

Pogus Ceaser’s photograph’s included images from the Handsworth Riots, which took place in his hometown of Birmingham in 1985. As a member of the local community Ceaser’s pictures portray the scenes and people of the riots with a level of intimacy that no press pictures would ever achieve but not wanting to exploit his community for financial gain, he kept the pictures from public view for 20 years.

Lastly some of the key people from the project spoke about the project itself and how it came together.

Janet Browne, Department of Learning, V & A who was the project lead thanked all of the people working on the project and volunteers.

Shirley Read’s role in the project was to collect the oral histories of photographers and other people involved in the project. Excerpts from the oral histories in which photographers discuss particular images can be founded on the V & A website.

One of the questions posed to the team by an audience member asked why such an important show was split over two small sites and wasn’t on display in a larger venue within the museum. Eric Frank of Eric Frank Fine Art – a collector of photographic images explained that part of the problem was that not only was there a need to encourage the V & A to acquire more black British photography, but it had quite a small collection of photographic images in general.

Marta Weiss, Curator of Photographs informed the audience that after the exhibition was finished, all of the images would go back into the photography collection and would no longer be categorised as photographs by black photographers or of black British history but as part of British History.

 

 

 

Event:

 

Narratives of the Black British Experience

 

From the 1950s – 1990s

 

Staying Power: Identity and Experience in Photographs

 

Friday 22nd May at the V & A

 

The event took place at the Victoria and Albert Museum and was the first day of a two day event which, along with the exhibitions at the V & A and The Black Cultural Museum were the culmination of a seven year project. ‘Staying Power’ is a project that aims is to increase the amount of black photographers and images of black Britain in the V & A’s permanent collection as well as promoting the important contribution of black British culture in Britain’s social and cultural history.

 

The daylong event took the format of a series of chaired conversations. Speakers were asked to choose a number of photographs from the exhibition and talk about these in relation to their own experiences.

 

After an introduction from Janet Browne & Matty Pye from the V & A learning department, the first conversation began. Jacqueline Springer chaired the conversation between Writer, DJ and Activist Chardine Taylor-Stone and Activist & Writer Stella Dadzie.

 

Dadzie chose pictures from the 1995 series of self-portraits ‘Untitled’ by Maxine Walker. She talked about Walker’s portraits, which show the same artist reinventing her image through her changing clothes, hair and make up. She continued to talk about her own often painful journey of transformation after transformation in order to feel accepted as a young black woman of an English mother in Britain.

 

Taylor-Stone chose pictures, which portrayed sub cultures. The first picture was of an early British female hip-hop group and she also showed images of a dancehall dancer wearing a home made outfit.The two speakers debated whether flaunting one’s body in revealing clothing and dancing in a sexualised way as depicted in on of Taylor-Stone’s selected images was an empowering expression of black culture or whether it objectified and disempowered women.

 

Next we heard from Photographer Syd Shelton in conversation with Karen Alexander, film and moving image curator, advisor and researcher. Shelton showed his own photographs which documented Britain in the 70’s and 80’s during the time when he was involved in Rock Against Racism a series of concerts across the UK which were organised to deliver an anti racism message.

 

The Islington Twins in conversation with Paul Goodwin, Curator and Professor of Black Art & Design, UAL.

 

The Islington Twins – Chuka and Dubem Okonkwo are the subjects of many photographs from the 1980s to present day. Dressed in immaculate matching outfits, the twins spoke about their careers as style icons who dressed as mods in their teens and walked around pretending that they were being photographed in their clothes, before long people began to take notice and in 1980 their appeared in The Face Magazine.

 

The Twins raised the issue of the subject’s rights when being photographed. They and photographers had never seen 90 percent of the images taken of the twins were the people making money from their creativity.

 

In the afternoon Michael McMillan, Playwright, Artist and Curator chaired a conversation with Photographers, James Barnor, Neil Kenlock and Photographer, Artist, Director Pogus Ceaser.

 

Barnor took photographs for Drum magazine, a South African magazine mainly aimed at Black Africans, which was famous for it’s reportage of township life under the apartheid. Ghanaian Barnor, often set his portraits against typical London backdrops, one of the photographs he showed was of Ghanian broadcaster Mike Eghan who presented a talkshow for BBC World service. Eghan is depicted in a celebratory pose in front Piccadilly Circus.

 

Jamaican born, Neil Kenlock moved to London in the 1960’s. He showed pictures taken by himself in the homes of British Caribbean families, he explained that people would often ask for a photographer to come and photograph family members in their homes, posing in their living rooms with their nice new decor and mod cons, to show their family back in the Caribbean how they had been successful in making a comfortable home for themselves in Britain. As Kenlock said, they wanted to show people that they had ‘made it’. Neil also became involved with the British Black Panthers and was asked to take pictures for them. In stark contrast to the colourful home portraits Neil also showed a black and white photograph of a young woman pointing to graffiti written on the door of the International Personnel training centre in Balham, which read ‘Keep Britain White’.

 

Pogus Ceaser’s photograph’s included images from the Handsworth Riots, which took place in his hometown of Birmingham in 1985. As a member of the local community Ceaser’s pictures portray the scenes and people of the riots with a level of intimacy that no press pictures would ever achieve but not wanting to exploit his community for financial gain, he kept the pictures from public view for 20 years.

 

Lastly some of the key people from the project spoke about the project itself and how it came together.

 

Janet Browne, Department of Learning, V & A who was the project lead thanked all of the people working on the project and volunteers.

 

Shirley Read’s role in the project was to collect the oral histories of photographers and other people involved in the project. Excerpts from the oral histories in which photographers discuss particular images can be founded on the V & A website.

 

One of the questions posed to the team by an audience member asked why such an important show was split over two small sites and wasn’t on display in a larger venue within the museum. Eric Frank of Eric Frank Fine Art – a collector of photographic images explained that part of the problem was that not only was there a need to encourage the V & A to acquire more black British photography, but it had quite a small collection of photographic images in general.

 

Marta Weiss, Curator of Photographs informed the audience that after the exhibition was finished, all of the images would go back into the photography collection and would no longer be categorised as photographs by black photographers or of black British history but as part of British History.