Soul of a Nation exhibition reminds us why black artists are important
Even though I’m writing this post during Black History Month in the UK, the Soul of a Nation Exhibition at the Tate Modern in London has been on since July. One of the first things I liked – black culture not relegated to Black History Month only. The interest in the exhibition was immense, I managed to go during one of the ‘Uniqlo Tate Lates’ sessions and was glad I booked tickets beforehand.
It was humbling walking through the white rooms of the Tate, transported back in time to the civil rights movement. I felt the fusion of emotions emitted from the vivid photos and colourful paintings. The artwork captured nuances in anguish, joy and triumph of black people in America up to and around the Civil Rights Movement.
The riveting exhibition is more than artists being subjective witnesses of a depressing and inspiring period of history. It’s an authentic capture of black history by those who could identify with the subjects emotionally, physically and psychologically (although the exhibition does have work from non-black artists too).
A black narrative by black artists.
It’s not impossible to for a non-black person depict a black narrative. However, expressing a reality that was yours or those of your family can only be most accurate through your own gaze. This gave the exhibition a different level of emotional authenticity that the work of black artists took centre stage. I was reminded that black people were standing firmly behind enemy lines during this period.
In addition to the art work, there were also televised speeches by prominent people of the movement including writer and activist Angela Davis. A Black Panther Party member, she came to national prominence after being sacked from her teaching post at the University of California due to her claimed communist associations. Her passion for prisoners’ rights goes back to the 1970 free the ‘Soledad Brothers’ campaign, which led to her own imprisonment. This caused a catalyst of events, most notably the ‘Free Angela Davis’ campaign, which helped drive her acquittal in 1972.
Through the Soul of a Nation exhibition…
I appreciated the tenacity of black people, who created a movement renowned globally without the use of social media and so profound that I and many others are still writing about it in 2017.
I appreciated the courage of black people, harnessing the strength to smile thorough oppression.
I appreciated the intellect black people exhibited when navigating a system that was setup to destroy them.
And of course, when there seemed to be no hope, when it looked like there was no light at the end of the tunnel, I appreciated the fact that black people didn’t stop, many fought literally until death, for freedom, for equality, to be considered human.
Sadly, the exhibition ends on 22nd October, so if you’re in London whatever your race, I recommend it! Remember black history is world history so it’s for everyone!
After the exhibition we were (of course) carefully led by the way the exhibition was laid out, to the dedicated shop. This was actually quite a nice surprise because there was so much black literature, some titles I’d heard of and others I hadn’t. It was like being in a sweet shop but it was a book shop lol.
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