Why we should support living Black Artists – a Curator’s Perspective
On 16 October 2018, I co-hosted ‘Aworan: A Celebration of Art from the Diaspora’ – an art exhibition featuring four up and coming Black artists. In collaboration with two of my friends and four of my former colleagues, I had spent over six months curating.
One of the most interesting things about the exhibition was the venue at which it was held – Ashurst; an international law firm and my previous employers. When I was approached to help plan Black History Month in April, on the basis that I was the most senior Black junior associate at the firm willing to do anything remotely for the culture. I thought it presented a great opportunity to introduce some creativity into a very traditionally corporate environment.
Of course, there is a certain level of resilience and consistency of dialogue needed to make something like #Aworan happen; particularly, in my case, as I suspected I would be leaving the company before the event took place. You have to be willing to explain and justify why such a platform is necessary for Black people of African and Caribbean descent.
In addition, be also ready to challenge any attempts to ‘water down’ the Blackness of such an event, whilst still maintaining a strong enough rapport to ensure that everyone is still on board. You also have to be smart about the way in which you approach the marketing of such an event – “a celebration of art from the diaspora” was sufficiently vague and apolitical so as not to ruffle too many feathers. Thankfully, this approach then allowed the artists’ work to speak for itself.
The main purpose of the event was to connect the artists with new potential clientele and to introduce people that would be interested in their work but may not otherwise come across such work to the artists themselves. This is certainly how it played out on the day and I personally felt fulfilled – seeing the artists able to comfortably express themselves, bussing jokes, speaking with confidence about their work, dressing as they felt fit – a celebration of unapologetic blackness in a very traditionally white space.
Each of the four artists invited to exhibit – Koby Martin, Eman Unaji, Wipbee and Buki Kekere – were and are wavy in their own right and are very much on an upwards trajectory. This year, Koby, in-house designer for artist management label Disturbing London, completed his first solo exhibition at the prestigious Old Street Gallery to add to a long list of other accolades.
Wipbee, who has only just turned 16, has incredibly entered the fourth year of running her art and graphic design business. Artist, model and designer Eman, who’s work has been featured by the likes of MTV, has found a niche creating custom jackets incorporating his fine art sketches for top UK music artists; and Buki has further solidified herself as a powerhouse in both the art and technology fields.
The event does speak to a wider movement happening within the arts. The ‘African Renaissance’ has increased the attention being paid to Africa, this is encouraging people to appreciate the value of creations by African creators. Emboldened by a new found sense of pride in their heritage, African creators are ensuring that they are well placed to reap the benefits of this. In the traditional art scene, this is manifesting itself in the willingness to invest in art by living Black artists, not only by those with the pre-amassed capital. People are realising that they don’t have to wait until they have reached a certain level within society or amassed a certain amount of wealth to invest in living artists – let’s pray that this trend continues.
Featured Image by @wipbee