Waves of change are afoot in a sea of mainstream art institutions. But long overdue gestures towards diversity will not eradicate centuries of neglect. The narrative of art history must be rewritten and our art institutions dramatically reshaped if the British cultural landscape is to shine with a rich diversity of talent.
In London, a handful of black and art-powered art spaces have run the long campaign for visibility and equality for people with color – working tirelessly to amplify the voices of black artists, curators and directors. In the words of Trinidad and Tobago-born journalist and activist Claudia Jones, “A people’s art is the genesis of their freedom.” Read on to visit and support some of the best black-owned galleries and institutions in the capital.
Autograph – the Association of Black Photographers – was founded in a small office in the Bon Marché Center in Brixton. Thirty years later, Autograph is in the heart of Shoreditch on Rivington Place, a five-story art and learning beacon designed by Sir David Adjaye. Under the direction of Dr. Mark Sealy MBE maintains his original mission: to advocate the work of photography and film that address issues of “identity, representation, human rights and social justice”. Look out for the upcoming Common Threads exhibit – a collection of embroidery, appliqué, and fabric prints by 23 artists from Submit to Love Studios, a collective of self-taught artists who all survived brain injuries.
Guest Projects was designed by artist Yinka Shonibare CBE and is an experimental space in East London that offers an “alternative universe and playground for artists”. It offers free month-long stays for artists of all disciplines, including dancers and musicians. The residents curate their own imaginative program with exhibitions, workshops and lectures. Again, the art of eating is not forgotten. In their supper club, The Artist Dining Room, guest chefs create dinners in the style of a single artist with appropriate discussions and performances. We’re pretty upset that we missed previous iterations that cover the likes of Louise Bourgeois, Frida Kahlo, and Derek Jarman.
INIVA, Institute for International Fine Arts
If Yinka Shonibare attributed his early success to an art institution, INIVA would certainly be. (No doubt in the sacred company of a number of other international artists – from Steve McQueen to Idris Khan and Sonia Boyce). INIVA was founded in 1994 under the direction of Professor Stuart Hall and quickly gained a reputation for groundbreaking exhibitions of black and Asian artists who sought to transform Britain’s westernized view of the visual arts. Today, from its creative hub at the Stuart Hall Library, INIVA’s refreshing program continues to fuel the debate on the politics of race, class and gender, and expands Hall’s original mission to “a completely reinvented Britain – reinvented for all, who refuse to allow others to ‘belong’.
198 Contemporary Art & Learning
From the same generation as Autograph and INIVA, 198 CAL sprang from the burgeoning Black Arts movement in the mid to late 1980s and has since rallied behind underrepresented Afro-Caribbean and Asian artists. At the 2017 Venice Biennale, half of the artists in the Diaspora Pavilion had already celebrated their first solo exhibition with 198. Last year, 198 started the Womxn of Color Art Award and awarded the London-based artist Maybelle Peters the opening event prize for her work on everything to do with work, leisure and the black body. Exciting plans are now underway for an ambitious redevelopment of the property on Railton Road – including three stories of exhibition space, as well as spaces for creative workshops and a teaching center.
The founder of Tafeta, Ayo Adeyinka, cut her teeth in the financial sector before reinventing a former art consultancy as a gallery in 2013. With her forward-looking approach, she became one of five exhibitors who received a place in the prestigious 2020 European Fine Art Fair Maastricht – the first – always place at the fair, specializing in contemporary African art. Tafeta has moved on and recently launched a radical trial before you buy initiative. Tilted Six for Six enables potential collectors to test three works of art at home for six weeks without the obligation to purchase. We rather like the look of Niyi Olagunju’s “Cookie Jar # 19” made of seductive hand-blown sapphire crystal and gold leaf …
Addis Fine Art
Although it is less than five years old, Addis has already been named one of the “most important young galleries in the world” by Artsy. Founders Rakeb Sile and Mesai Haileleul opened their first art space in Addis Ababa and opened their London gallery just six months later. Today the British outpost represents the best of modern and contemporary art in the Horn of Africa and strengthens Ethiopia’s reputation on the international art scene. Addis was slated to move into a unique flexible showroom of its kind in Kensington this spring, but Covid-19 halted plans. Instead, the team has dedicated itself to the world of VR – including an exhibition by the black American artist Tsedaye Makonnen for Untitled, Art’s first virtual trade fair experience.
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