“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. – Anais Nin”
The Tate Britain; home of British art from the 1500’s to the present day. With its vast collection of Britains aristocracy laced with neon lights of the future unfurled along it walls, The Tate endeavors to showcase the power of the United Kingdom via tradition and its artistic voice through innovation. The hub, on this spring evening, however, hummed a new tune, as the pitter-patter of drums petered from its windows and poured down its front steps. The hive of portraits; with pomegranate stained lips, fair hair and rosy cheeks, gazed blue-eyed at the swarm of coffee colored faces; with kinky curls for halo’s, kente clad and warm amber eyes, starving for some honey. Late at the Tate: Stand Firm, on the 7th of April, presented a night of rediscovery and meditation on music, literature, moving images, visual art and political engagement of the African and Caribbean migrants to the UK.
The evening fused a junior audience, eager to soak up their history in Britain, to a senior crowd, who arrived to reflect upon their youth; creating a forum for discussion on the important long-standing contributions made by African and Caribbean expats to the UK. The energy and enthusiasm that sparked the room emphasized the necessity to reflect positive black voices in British art and media. A highlight of the evening was the ‘Cultivating Culture’ talk on the importance of club spaces and sound systems. The panel included, founder of Soul II Soul, Jazzie B and his Goddaughter, Touching Bass DJ, Mali Larrington-Nelson. The conversation tackled the progression of the British music, connecting the dots to the birth of Lovers Rock, right down to the current sound, Grime. The discussion was then broadened to the audience, where the maturer spectators questioned the content of todays music, counting it frivolous in comparison to the politically charged sound of the 70’s and early 80’s; opening the forum for intergenerational voices to be heard and thoughts explored. Other highlights included; a discussion with Tate Collection Artists Syd Shelton, James Barnor, Neil Kenlock and Dennis Morris, on their extensive catalogue of work with, social historian, Emma Dabiri. Poetry performed by Kareem Parkins-Brown and film ‘So There You Have It, A Bitter Experience’, by Jay Bernard. The East End Thrift Store also gave spectators the opportunity to have a polaroid picture taken in 60’s and 70’s fashion, hand picked from their store in Whitechapel. While The West Indian Living Room, designed by Freya Newmarch and Frankie Markot, was available for you to sit back and enjoy the BBC’s ‘The Real McCoy’, whilst exploring the catalogue of books relating to the Black British experience.
The night gave opportunity for both the junior and senior members of the Black British community to unite through their experience. Inviting a unashamed celebration of their culture, thus inspiring a bold exploration of fashion and artistic expression. However the title ‘Stand Firm’, like Peter Fryer’s book ;Staying Power’, illustrates the idea of a static, unmoving mentality of struggling to live in U.K. While its important to acknowledge and highlight the hardships of the early Black British experience, are we missing the knowledge of life before slavery and the civil rights struggle, so that communities can move forward. Is there joy and power to be found in our history before Britain? Perhaps the exploration of this rich history might help marry the bridges of the black diaspora; mending the shrapnel wounds of slavery that bleeds within generations now? In the press recently, actor Samuel Jackson criticized the casting of Black British actors in roles about American race relations; he went on to say, “I tend to wonder what that movie [Get Out] would have been with an American brother who really feels that, Some things are universal, but [not everything]”. Struggle exclusivity. Though its important to reveal voices and discuss these topics, is it isolating communities based on individual experience? Are these issues strong enough to build the foundations of Black History? Is it strong enough to reverse the damage of the Willy Lynch Theory? Is it time to start healing rifts of the diaspora through the excavation of the royal African kingdoms that unite us all?
And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. – Anais Nin