Saturday 24 January 2015

Ojeikere, Shonibare, others in Staying Power of Black British

By Tajudeen Sowole
Late J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere, Nigerian-born British artist, Yinka Shonibare and Neil Kenlock, Normski, Dennis Morris, Gavin Watson, Al Vandenberg, among 17 photographers,  are currently showing Staying Power: Photographs of Black British Experience 1950s-1990s at Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), U.K. The Museum is showing a collection of 118 works.

From Yinka Shonibare’s Diary of a Victorian Dandy series
The museum states on its website that the exhibition, which runs till June 2015 is a project to increase the number of black British photographers and images of black Britain in the V&A collection. The show, which holds at two sections of the museum, according to the organisers aims to raise awareness of the contribution of black Britons to British culture and society, as well as to the art of photography. The display includes 25 photographs, which opened at Black Cultural Archives on January 15, ending June 30, 2015 and at the V&A gallery from February 16 – May 24, 2015.

Ojeikere (1930-2014) is showing eight pieces from his iconic gele (headdress) and African hairstyle works on female fashion. Among the works are two pieces Untitled, 2005, from the series Headties and Pineapple, 1969, from the series Hairstyles. The works are courtesy of The Estate of J. D. 'Okhai Ojeikere and V&A.

Shonibare’s works include five pieces, all from his Diary of a Victorian Dandy series. The curatorial note says Shonibare’s work engages with his cross-cultural heritage, challenging definitions of national identity and history.

On the theme of the exhibition, the museum recalls its interest of over the last seven years working with Black Cultural Archives to acquire photographs by black photographers and origin in the U.K. The project, it was stated has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). The museum added: “To complement the photographs, Black Cultural Archives have collected oral histories from a range of subjects including the photographers themselves, their relatives, and the people depicted in the images.”

Founded in 1981, Black Cultural Archives’ mission is to collect, preserve and celebrate the heritage and history of Black people in Britain. They opened the UK’s first dedicated Black heritage centre in Brixton, London in July 2014, enabling greater access to the archive collection and providing dedicated learning spaces and an exciting programme of exhibitions and events that explore British history from a unique perspective. The archive collection offers insight into the history of people of African and Caribbean descent in Britain and includes personal papers, organisational records, rare books, ephemera, photographs, and a small collection of objects.

At 21, Ojeikere was one of the only few photographers in the old Western Region of Nigeria. He became a darkroom assistant at the Ministry of Information in Ibadan in 1954, where he worked until 1961. He later worked as a photographer for Africa’s first Television Station, The Western Nigerian Broadcasting Services, and for West African Publicity in Lagos from 1963-1975. Ojeikere became a member of the Nigeria Art Council in 1967. He travelled across Nigeria with the council and began to document Nigerian culture, beginning a series of photographs documenting Nigerian hairstyles in 1968. Over the course of his life Ojeikere recorded more than a thousand hairstyles, as well as traditional headties. The series of photographs, which includes both popular and ceremonial styles, is of historic and anthropological significance, as well as aesthetic value.

Shonibare (MBE) works across a range of artistic mediums including sculpture, painting, photography and film. Born in London in 1962, Shonibare spent the majority of his childhood in his parents’ birthplace of Lagos, Nigeria before returning to London at the age of seventeen. He attended Byam Shaw School of Art (now part of Central Saint Martins) and Goldsmiths College in the late 1980s, becoming part of the generation of Young British Artists (YBAs).

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