“No Colour Bar” was a banner slogan for the international struggle against racism that was erupting throughout the 20th century, beginning with the civil rights movement in North America. An exhibition of the same name is being held at the Guildhall Art Gallery, featuring many black artists from the time such as Errol Lloyd and Tam Joseph, many of which migrated into England in the late 50s.
The introductory piece that caught my eye straight away was Lost Queen Of Pernambuco, an alloy bust produced in 1989 by Fowokan George Kelly. Pernambuco refers to a settlement of Africans who, across the 18th and 19th century, escaped their slavery and lived as a community on the border of Brazil and Dutch Guiana. They lived their for 90 years, only to be captured again for their apparent lack of vigilance.
The term Queen is often used for idolatry purposes, as if the Pernambuco settlement somehow worships this figure portrayed as a bust. For what reason we are not initially clear, but when the title states that they are the lost queen, I am given the implication that it is something that they were trying to find but never could. I get the impression that the Pernambuco each had something they could look up to and idolise…something to keep them going and working hard. Kelly may have been trying to give off the implication that they were all human, and that we could empathise with them, the bindings around the bust reiterating slavery whilst the title of Queen implicating dominance and idolatry.
Once I entered the room where the bulk of the exhibition was taking place, everything seemed to brighten up some more. The artwork now felt less gloomy and less depressing, and more carefree and innocent. The curator may have been trying to say that, on the outside things may seem scary, but if we actually delve into new different cultures, it could actually prove to be potentially exciting.
As was the case with Rain Falling, Sun Shining by Odette Thomas, this front cover of the book illustrated by Errol Lloyd. Thomas’ biography at the back of this book says that it contains rhymes written for and to be read and sung by children, the pictures illustrating some of Thomas’ fondest childhood memories. As such, Lloyd’s front cover is colourful and peace-provoking, portraying a young black child interacting with some vibrant wildlife. Referring back to my analysis of the curation, I now have a much better, more positive impression on African culture, as it seems to me that they are peace-loving and innocent, wanting to avoid segregation and make their way in the world, just like us. The title, Rain Falling, Sun Shining further enhances my impression of positivity, the sun being verbalised to be more superior to the commonly bad and dark rain.
Another book cover that caught my attention was a photograph by Jerome Liebling, the book being Andrew Salkey’s In The Border Country and Other Stories. The photograph portrays an elderly man taking a rest in what look like grassy plains. This man does not look of any black descent or origins, and the grin on his face tells us that he is very content resting in this wasteland. In The Border Country could well be a reference to the border of Brazil and Dutch Guiana where the Pernambucos escaped to, although the content look on the model’s face contradicts that of the lost queen. I admire this photo for it’s simplicity, reminding us that new cultures can be a refreshing and vibrant experience.
Delving further into the exhibition drove me to Tam Joseph’s Spirit Of The Carnival. A screen print produced in 1988, Spirit Of The Carnival offers a political commentary on increasing police presence at London’s annual Notting Hill Carnival of the time. A character at the centre of the piece, adorned with traditional African tribe clothing, is cornered by riot shields, along with their dog. I liked this piece for it’s spontaneous action and movement, provoking a dynamic sequence that could escalate in any direction. The character surrounded by the vast wave of policemen is described as being a “Defiant Masquerader”. This name, I think, gives them more of a persona, as if they are some kind of vigilante. Spirit Of The Carnival has been my major influence on generating ideas for my A6 postcard, for it’s portrayal of what so far I have seen as a peaceful culture and turning it into more of a tense and dangerous realm.
Also bright, colourful and somewhat abstract in composition was Witchdoctor by Denzil Forrester. Forrester came to England from Grenada when he was a mere 10 years old. Witchdoctor is a huge oil on canvas painting that he produced when he was in his late 20s; he often liked to work in a huge scale and much of his work features music and popular culture. Witchdoctor does not contradict, and once again I can appreciate it for it’s dynamic use of colour, it’s innocence, and the impression that it has struck me with on black historic culture.