Whilst meditating on this extraordinary exhibition, I was emboldened by this culture monitor that echoes the heartbeat of black history, that showcases a bass that rattles round Saturday markets and up and around high rise estates. On the contrary, I was reminded of my very first post on ThePalaceOfTheDogs; A review on the exhibit Staying Power at the V&A museum. My toil on whether Black British history could stand without an American one. Itching out my irks with the title, Staying Power, which reminded me of a garden weed or rodent. A box room of Black British miscommunication, that transcribed my only history as “No Blacks, No Dogs and No Irish”. However, Get up Stand up Now, Curated by Zak Ove, had an adverse affect that rung true to my experience in the UK; A choice to survive.
Somerset House is celebrating 50 years of black creativity in the UK; Exhibiting art, film, literature, photography and fashion by a host of interdisciplinary artists. These creatives, both established and emerging, were selected for actively shaping Black British culture and ‘beyond’.
This word ‘beyond’, used by Somerset House to describe the exhibit, tickles at me and my earlier need to see Black Britain stand independently and noted for its influences across the diaspora. In the news we’ve observed Black American actors argue that Black British actors are ‘stealing’ US roles. An idea supported by Samuel Jackson and recently discussed on the Netflix show “She Gotta Have It”. In season 2 episode 5, the character Nola Darling argues that Black British actors are “Cheaper”, but worse, that Black Britains suffer from the ‘Stockholm syndrome’ and ‘fell in love with our captors’. Spouting her list of observations on Black Brits to support her qualm on why UK artists are unqualified to play ‘their’ roles. Whilst studying black history, I’ve observed that the journey of africans being spliced across the Atlantic to be enslaved was the same. There wasn’t a cruise line for those destined for British colonies. The horror of slavery was/is still the same and the trauma, though our environments differ, still equally rings through our existence today. Should we be scrapping over our blackness on the account of our differences in victimhood? Or should we be uniting on the fact that we survive? Surely we should be retorting at the use of White actors being used play Egyptian roles. Egypt is in Africa. This word ‘Beyond’ champions Black Britains global influence and can demonstrated best by film maker Jenn Nkiru (who worked on Jay Z’s and Beyoncé’s APESH*T). An artist who successfully creates a language that represents the black experience across the diaspora.
This exhibition left me truly challenged by the deep trauma that slavery and colonisation has had on black people. Whilst rejoicing in the fact that we continue to thrive and prosper in a hostile environment that tries to displace and erase us. The exhibition explores sexuality and gender on black bodies, joyous storytelling, history, spirituality and a fight that universally keeps black people staying in power. A language that is exclusively and universally black. Get Up Stand Up Now ends on the 15th of September and is a must see this summer.
Words by Daniel ‘Kwabena-James’Bailey