Lime Review - Exhibitions
Staying Power at Black Cultural Archives
The Staying Power exhibition is the culmination of a seven year collaborative project between Black Cultural Archives (BCA) and the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
The photographs on display provide outstanding examples of a range of social, cultural and political subjects that caught the imagination of individual photographers during a 50 year period from the 1950s through to the 1990s. The subjects covered in the photographs reflect the broad themes found within the BCA collection – education, activism and campaigns – thematically spanning topics ‘from protest to progress’ – an ongoing journey for the black diaspora in the UK.
Images such as Charlie Phillips’ ‘Flat to Let’ taken in 1959 with the handwritten advert requesting ‘married couple only no coloured’ and Neil Kenlock’s ‘Keep Britain White’ from 1974 are stark reminders of the prejudice and stigma often encountered by migrant communities in post-war Britain, while Normski’s photograph of his mother holding her UK passport references issues of identity, belonging, and citizenship that are personal and individual yet familiar and shared by many former commonwealth citizens.
James Barnor’s stunning image of popular Ghanaian broadcaster Mike Eghan taken in Piccadilly Circus in 1967 captures the exuberance, familiar to any new arrival, of having the city literally and metaphorically at one's feet. The unlit neon hoardings of BOAC, Coca Cola and Bulova and the snappy dress sense of the subject bring the swinging 60s back to life.
Music is one of the key themes running through the exhibition and there are some terrific shots linked to the Black British experience. The Staying Power exhibition includes photographs that document London’s dynamic sound system music scene in the 1970s. British Caribbean migrants brought the sound system concept to London in the 1960s, beginning at house parties known as ‘Blues Dance’ and later moving into clubs. ‘Admiral Ken’, in the foreground of this photograph, was a well known sound system operator, becoming the resident at the Bouncing Ball Club in Peckham during the 1970s. Morris has identified the man standing to the left of the van as the boxer Dennis Andries, who years later went on to become world light heavyweight boxing champion.
Syd Shelton’s 1981 image of fans at a Specials concert captures the unique UK multicultural ska revival movement that was 2-Tone, and there is also a handsome portrait of Vincent Forbes known on stage as ‘Duke Vin’, sound system pioneer, taken by Charlie Phillips in 2002.
Alongside the photographs there is a collection of oral histories from a range of subjects including the photographers, their relatives and the people in the actual images.
The plethora of dazzling images which bring aspects of the UK Black Experience into sharp focus make this a must-see exhibition.
Reviewed by Juneed Asad
Staying Power runs until Tuesday 30 June 2015
Black Cultural Archives, Tuesday–Sunday, 10am to 6pm, at 1 Windrush Square, Brixton, London, SW2 1EF.
020 3756 8500. Free admission, www.bcaheritage.org.uk, @bcaheritage
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