Friday, 4 September 2015

Personal Insight: The Day I Met the Bar

Personal Insight: Volunteer and writer Valentine Ogunba shares his introductory experience with the No Colour Bar team. 

The Day I Met the Bar

Despite numerous efforts, I can't be classed as someone who looks forward to Mondays. I'll be the first to admit that 11:00am for most people constitutes a lie in; still I was struggling to meet even this generous deadline. How 3 weeks can leave you out of practice! I'd signed up to volunteer at No Colour Bar: Black British Art in Action 1960 – 1990, the exhibition taking place in the Guildhall Art Gallery. After successfully navigating the labyrinth that is Bank station and a final direction from a post-man I arrived.

I have to admit that before becoming involved with the exhibition I had no knowledge of Eric and Jessica Huntley, that however was about to change. I entered the meeting room and met the friendly and enthusiastic organisers. My adversity to Monday's disappeared into the background as we began. Our guide Katty Pearce (one of the curators) took us to the 'Intervention' pieces from the NCB (No Colour Bar) exhibition on display in the gallery. These had been inserted into the main gallery alongside pieces not involved in the exhibition.

I'd never seen this done before! The words of Colin Prescod, a trustee of Friends of the Huntley Archives at the London Metropolitan Archives (FHALMA) were embodied: He’d said NCB wasn’t just about showcasing Black British Art. It was about a struggle and way of thinking which people from different ethnicities and backgrounds had supported. It was new heritage at the site of old heritage and a statement for everyone to take ownership of.

I felt the somber sensation that always comes over me when faced with art of a profound nature. It caused me to consider the circumstances that birthed the work, the emotions of the individual and the contrast between the world then and now.

It would be too early to call them my favourite pieces but at first viewing they stood out: First was Tam Joseph’s – Monkey Dey Chop, Baboon Dey Cry. I though it was great even before I read the title, which sounds like one that the late Nigerian musician Mr. Fela Kuti would have approved of. It’s full of symbolism; to me it represents different groups of people all with their own agendas. There’s the 80’s Mercedes, the clergyman, the African man in military attire, the woman with her child as she farms and more.

Second was Sonia Boyce’s – She Ain’t Holding Them Up, She’s Holding On (Some English Rose). This piece for me was bittersweet, a beautiful woman holding a family high above her head. Family dynamics can be complicated at the best of times and the title adds more intrigue. You can think that something or someone is taking all of your energy when actually it’s what is keeping you going.

Michael McMillan told us about recreating the Walter Rodney bookshop through life-size pictures and real books. Michael also told me the picture on the NCB flyer was Walter Rodney from his funeral, which had turned into a demonstration following his assassination.

As I was leaving Michael Ohajuru, the exhibition’s Evaluation Consultant, introduced me to Keith Whaite, a renowned flautist who due to play at the opening of the exhibition. Then as we stepped into the sunshine Michael said, ‘Would you like to meet Eric Huntley?
A moment later I shook hands with a peaceful looking man with a brilliant head of pure white hair and a matching beard. He was friendly and laughed heartily at my name.
I walked away excited, feeling privileged at all I’d discovered but knowing that there was much more to learn. As Mondays go, this was definitely one of the better ones. 

©Valentine Ogunba 2015    

Do you think you have something to offer No Colour Bar: Black British Art in Action? Volunteering Opportunities include: events, project co-ordination, business administration, research, evaluation, marketing and communications, social media, public relations, arts & heritage ambassadors, gallery guides, workshops, programme support, operations, film making, artistic performances and a host of other engaging experiences.

Contact: Patricia Berdugo -

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