Exhibition brings together work by 10 British African diaspora artists

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Exhibition brings together work by 10 British African diaspora artists
Harold Offeh, Down at the Twilight Zone, 2018. 12 hour event, Toronto, Canada. Commissioned by Toronto Nuit Blanche, 2018. Photo by Priam Thomas.

CAMBRIDGE.- Kettle’s Yard opened Untitled: art on the conditions of our time. This exhibition brings together work by 10 British African diaspora artists with a focus on how their innovative practices ask important questions about some of the most important cultural and political issues of our turbulent times. The exhibition features new commissions by Barby Asante, Appau Junior Boakye-Yiadom and NT, as well as new and recent work by Larry Achiampong & David Blandy, Phoebe Boswell, Kimathi Donkor, Evan Ifekoya, Cedar Lewisohn, Harold Offeh and Ima-Abasi Okon. Painting, drawing and printmaking sits alongside performance, video and sound installation.

The exhibition title refers to the longstanding art historical convention of leaving artworks ‘untitled’ in order to encourage attention onto the works themselves, and eliminate reliance upon contextual information. Untitled asks viewers to examine the conditions of our time through the prism of Black British artists working today, without reducing the encounter solely to an exploration of Black British identity. By avoiding such over-contextualisation, the exhibition seeks to foreground these artists’ practices and show how they create platforms for audiences to explore the connections between art, culture and society.

Themes emerge that speak to shared contemporary concerns: sexuality and queerness; migration and conflict; technology and media; the disintegration of traditional image making and transmission; commemoration and memory. Patterns can also be seen in the artists’ choice of media. The exhibition traces an interest in performativity, social participation, immaterial conceptualism, multimedia work and ephemeral practices, alongside more traditional techniques such as drawing, painting and printmaking.

Curator Paul Goodwin has said: “This exhibition takes a bold curatorial approach to the often paradoxical question of curating ‘black survey shows’. Instead of focusing on blackness ahead of the works themselves, Untitled flips this order and focuses on the works first and foremost. Questions of blackness, race and identity are then shown to be entangled in the multitude of concerns – aesthetic, material and political – that viewers can encounter without the curatorial voice obscuring the works.”

The exhibition includes three new works that have been commissioned by Kettle’s Yard. Barby Asante (b. 1975) presents an ambitious new performance in the Kettle’s Yard House inspired by Audre Lorde’s essay Poetry is not a luxury, and incorporating music and spoken word. This new video and sound work flows through the exhibition spaces. Called To make love is to create and recreate ourselves over and over again - a soliloquy to heartbreak (2021), it features a group of women who have been asked by Asante to recite Lorde’s text collectively, yet separately, and perform everyday rituals in their homes.

Appau Junior Boakye-Yiadom (b. 1984) has made a new work that explores performativity, cultural exchange and abstraction. An installation fills Gallery 2 with the sound of Kettle’s Yard’s two grand pianos, engaged in a battle of sorts. Boakye Yiadom has commissioned musicians to respond to filmic source material collected across a long period, and the work connects the important role of music at Kettle’s Yard to the longstanding weekly ritual of changing the fresh flowers in the House.

NT presents a new three-channel film focusing on their muse Greta Mendez and shot on location in the brutalist surroundings of the Barbican Estate. Mendez is an artist, choreographer, dancer, carnivalist, and film-maker. Other recent works filmed by NT on location in London include Fox (2018), a compelling study of a solitary Black youth and their relationship to society and the urban environment, commissioned for Deptford X festival.

The exhibition also includes Larry Achiampong (b. 1984) and David Blandy’s (b. 1976) film A Terrible Fiction (2019) and Finding Fanon (2015–17), a trilogy of video works presented amongst what appears to be the detritus and remnants of society. Finding Fanon explores the artists’ relationship, as friends and collaborators, to their own colonial histories, played out through their discovery of the lost plays of writer and revolutionary Frantz Fanon (1925-61) whose work explored the psychological impact of colonialism and postcolonialism.

A number of paintings by Kimathi Donkor (b. 1965) are being shown, reimagining mythic and legendary encounters across Africa and its Diasporas, and exploring the ways in which painting can convey the relevance of history and memory to contemporary life. Nanny of the Maroons’ Fifth Act of Mercy (2012) references and subverts a painting by Joshua Reynolds (1723–92) which depicts an aristocrat whose family was involved in enslaving people in plantations in Jamaica. Here her role is swapped with her influential adversary, Queen Nanny of the Maroons.

In addition the exhibition includes new large-scale drawings by Phoebe Boswell (b. 1982) depicting fisherman on the African island of Zanzibar whose livelihoods have been impacted by the climate crisis and globalisation; Harold Offeh’s (b. 1977) Covers Playlist (2016) in which the artist uses his body to re-enact well known album covers, as well as his new film Down at the Twilight Zone (2020) documenting Offeh’s 12-hour performance for Nuit Blanche, Toronto, that looked at the rich histories of LGBTQ2S peoples’ experiences of Toronto’s nightlife; Evan Ifekoya’s (b. 1988) immersive six hour sound installation Ritual Without Belief (2018), Cedar Lewisohn’s (b. 1977) new series of handmade prints The Marduk Prophecy; and Ima-Abasi Okon’s (b. 1981) installation Put Something in the Air: The E-s-s-e-n-t-i-a-l Mahalia Jackson Blowing Up DJ Pollie Pop’s Chopped and Screwed Rendition of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries — Military-Entertainment Complex Dub [Jericho Speak Life!]*(Free of Legacy)* (2017).

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