The photos in this post are credited to Eddie Osei. They beautifully capture the energy at the last major event of the No Colour Bar Exhibition, the RAP Party and Late View - Friday 22nd January.
It begins with a seedling that takes root then spreads. Spreads, not like a marauding vine but the spark that inspires. Creativity cannot be contained. It thrives and seeks to reproduce. Its aim is expansion and transformation.
The No Colour Bar Exhibition has come and apparently gone. It doesn’t seem fair, if real, that it is over. If you didn’t get to see the exhibition you missed something special. Reason enough to find some way to insist on another chance. Yet, a repetition won’t do. If what you missed was special and possible, then why not demand more. This more would be no mere encore, but expansive, transcending the limitations of the bar that kept the ‘secret’ hidden. Margaret Andrews’ parting dedication at the RAP party on Friday 22nd January reminded us that representation and showcasing of Black British Art has been just that – a secret. If one doesn’t know this secret, one assumes there’s nothing to know, let alone show.
Dr Andrews, Chair of Friends of the Huntley at London Metropolitan Archives (FHALMA) was serious when she admonished white establishment for failing to be more inclusive when it comes to cultural representation that reflect diversity in the UK. In other words, the ‘secret’ is deliberate. Many of the brilliant artists appear obscure, as though they’re new discoveries. The truth is that they have lacked exposure. ‘Shame on you,’ she told those in the industry who have the means to direct the way our society is reflected, but who make of art a privilege enjoyed by the few.
We know that what we saw during the six month Exhibition was a moderation of the immense works of art being produced by Black Artists in the UK.
Michael McMillan, one of the Curators, who designed the installed book shop, expressed that he was tired, and it was no gesture. Like others, the work was hard, even those who were paid for ‘working’ on the exhibition did much more than that – so that all were in fact volunteers. It would not have worked otherwise. Yet it could have. For unlike mainstream exhibitions, the artists loaned their work to the No Colour Bar for free. If we insist on their being more, for the bar to be removed then this draining of resources, this liberty which we know is often taken of artists, particularly of black artists has to stop. The organisers were grateful for the artists’ generosity, that was clear. But they knew it wasn’t fair, nor was it the general order of things. For the sake of unveiling the secret, so that we could embrace the magic, for now this had to be the way it was done. In the spirit of the activism that inspired the works in this exhibition we must collectively demand the change.
Eric Huntley expressed joy at the numbers who turned out to the party. Tiredness coupled with humility showed on his face. He seemed enchanted by the portrait of him by Ebun Culwin, unveiled at event. The artist said it was not possible to portray him without his wife Jessica somewhere in the frame. It showed a man, quiet with wisdom and poised for more, if lighter work. He was humbled, as he knew Jessica would be too, and overwhelmed.
He had invited tributes from artists – poets like John Agard, storytellers, Like Mark Mathews – with warming tales beautifully expressed in his Guyanese accent; grandson Asante who did a rap piece seemed nervous, maybe not from having to perform in front of the crowd, but (subconsciously) knowing that his grandparents made the gathering possible. I enjoyed Alan Cooper’s, ‘to dream the impossible dream’ which captured the spirit of the exhibition beautifully.
There will be a digital tour of the exhibition across the UK and beyond. It won’t be quite the same but will still need our support. I came away thinking how marvellous it would be as, Margaret Andrews urged, to invest in a work of art by Black artists. This she directed at those who might have the means to do so instead of investing in the latest model of car! I have the feeling that Jessica Huntley will not be resting in ‘mourning silence’ but is right now, somewhere in the midst working her magic, such wonders we’ve yet to see.