Black History Month UK: Celebrating Cultural Vibrancy

Black History Month 1987

Last month marked the annual celebration of African’s and Caribbean’s in the UK, Black History Month. First being launched in London in 1987 under the co-ordination of Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, it’s aims are to address the discrimination against people of African and Caribbean backgrounds. Addai-Sebo mentions how he started Black History Month because he was “stirred up in the mid-1980s by the identity crisis that Black children faced as some brazenly would not identify with Africa and shrank when called an African…more had to be done.”

During this month, the achievements and contributions of the black community over the years is commended. One would particularly see a rise in exhibitions, workshops and other general events run by black people. Black people have always been present, but there’s a lack of this representation in the education system and beyond. This month is a time for one to educate themselves on the history of Britain that doesn’t often get taught. In fact, the forgotten history of the people who have helped shape the UK.

What does Black History Month mean to me ? – Joke Valerie Amusan

Black History Month is a time to rejoice and reflect on the bravery of those who have gone before us and paved the path we tread today. I am reminded of the many great black artists, engineers, authors, scientists, musicians, and so on, who worked tirelessly to make the lives of African’s and Caribbean’s easier. They motivate me to play my part and to continue to be hopeful for the future. Black History Month is about understanding the tragedies that have occurred in the past and remembering the fact that these tragedies were overcome. I found out about people such as Omoba Aina Forbes-Bonetta, the Nigerian princess who was sold into slavery after her parents were captured by a slave trader’s army during the Okeadon War. She ended up being given as a gift to Queen Victoria at the cost of her Yoruba name. I didn’t learn this in school when we were taught on the subject of slavery. While Black History Month provides great opportunities for exhibitions and other events to be held in the month of October here in the UK, I don’t agree with it being limited to one month, although it’s a great step in the right direction. 

How much more can we do today with the resources and the encouragements of the African’s and Caribbean’s who came before us? They have passed us the baton, now it’s our turn to continue the race.

A closer look at artist Lina Iris Viktor

Lina Iris Viktor, artist

Last month, I made sure to take advantage of many of the exhibitions featuring black artists. One of the exhibitions I attended was by artist Lina Iris Viktor. 

Viktor is a British-Liberian conceptual artist whose work encompasses photography, sculpture, and performance to create stunning artworks, always with a 3-dimensional aspect to them. She does so while adhering to a colour palette of 24-karat gold, blue, back, and white. Black is the full absorption of light and white is the full negation of light so it’s interesting to see this combination hold such a potent presence when placed together. In the same way she merges photography and abstract painting, she entwines concepts and materials of contemporary and ancient art forms. Viktor addresses the socio-political and historical preconceptions surrounding ‘blackness’ and its universal implications.

I visited Rivington Place to see her first solo show in the UK, Some are born to Endless Night – Dark Matter in person. My reason for going being that I wanted to see work which was by a black female artist and curated by a woman. Entering Rivington Place, I was thrown into a new world where luxurious blacks, ultramarine blues, and opulent 24-karat golds thrived. Surrounded by bold portraits of black women encompassed with intricate designs, I felt represented, powerful. In this immersive environment, the beings held a presence which seemed to freeze time and challenge the perceptions of black women. While I often see black women being at the very bottom of the chain, here they were represented as the queens that they are. It had a profound impact on me.

The exhibition was curated by Renée Mussai, a curator, writer, and art historian. Her practice centres on African, Black British and diasporic photographic practices. She’s the head of Archive & Research at Autograph. Autograph is an arts charity “dedicated to the development and public presentation of culturally diverse visual arts…with a strong focus on sharing work made by Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) artists with the public.”

Check out her exhibition ‘Some are born to Endless Night – Dark Matter in person’. Open until 25th Jan 2020.

Dark Yellow Dot

Dark Yellow Dot is a thriving arts platform which supports emerging artists. True Colour Collective was lucky enough to assist DYD in the curation of their recent event exhibition BOLD.

I went along to the BOLD: Portrait Exhibition opening night on the 9th October and witnessed some great art and performances. Displayed on a yellow wall in London’s Theatre Deli are the works of 10 artists of colour. Portraiture was explored in mediums of paint, photography and print. All the works perfectly came together in the Theatre Deli providing space to view and reflect on the artworks in a relaxed setting.  

Behind The Platform

Lauren Little, owner of Dark Yellow Dot

I talked to Lauren Little, owner of Dark Yellow Dot about her exhibition and where she feels the future of Black British artists is heading.

Why did you create the Dark Yellow Dot platform?

I wanted to create a safe space for people to create and share their art, at whatever stage they’re at and I know first hand that people usually seek this encouragement when they’re at the very beginning of their creative journey. When I first moved back here I wanted to get started in the art community, but without knowing anyone I found it quite challenging to get involved and to keep my momentum in creating art, so I felt compelled to connect with other artists who understand what that’s like. 

I came along to the opening night of your BOLD: Portrait Exhibition, it was brilliant! How do you think it went?

It really was so amazing to see so many beautiful people come together in the name of supporting black artists. I just felt so proud of everyone who took part, for many it was their very first exhibition opportunity or even first time pricing or preparing their art, and for me watching that growth is super powerful, I’m really proud. I love working with Theatre Deli too, their always supportive and encouraging of people making creative work. 

Do you find it difficult being a black female artist and constructing opportunities for emerging artists?

I think being at the beginning of any journey is already a challenge, but I do see that things are changing now, and industries are opening their doors wider to us more consistently. I don’t, however, feel that being a black female has anything to do with my ability to make great things. 

What advice do you have for artists who are trying to get their work out there?

Just start. Get on the internet. Make that Instagram account, build that website, and just start. Look around and find free or low-cost opportunities to showcase your work, and apply! Things like this give you something to work towards, it gets your creative momentum going and it’s a guaranteed opportunity for learning and growth. We actually curate and post affordable and free open calls on our website that are specifically for new, young and emerging artists. ( Find details below)

Where do you see the future of Black British artists going?

We’re coming! I personally feel this is a huge time for us right now, I’m always amazed and inspired by all the brilliant people that are out here running their passion, creating art with no reservations. I think the future will continue to see and acknowledge the excellence that is being sourced from the Black British community and I see big things going on in the visual arts space. 

What does Black History Month mean to you?

Evidence of black history is with us every day, whether that be positive reminders or negative. But to set aside time to recognise the achievements of our predecessors is meaningful to me, as it gives me that extra courage to know that whatever I envision for myself is possible. 

Check out Dark Yellow Dot for opportunities to feature your artwork and discover new artists and art exhibitions.