As I walked toward the New Art Exchange, an audible buzz was bursting from the building. Despite being one of the first to arrive, the scene was set; DJ Nwando Ebizie was mixing by the bar to propel the party atmosphere, and the room was full of people excited to see what the gallery had to offer in “UNTITLED.”
This exhibition showcases works in several medias by African diaspora artists in the UK, and it aims to look at various issues being considered today, from gender to culture to identity. The exhibition also seeks to look at the less obvious connections between art and culture, and where they’re found in our communities.
Barby Asante, for example, has created an interactive map that marks out cultural hubs that help young people in Nottingham. And I was captivated by The Art of Black Hair, a series of portraits that wound up the stairs, culminating in a video of people talking about their Afro-hair related stories. This was paired with pieces from The National Caribbean Heritage Museum, which provided a fascinating context and glimpse into another world.
Having followed these portraits upstairs, I began to marvel in the mezzanine gallery. Pieces from Cedar Lewisohn – writer, artist and curator – particularly struck a chord. He has created wood carving prints (Wood Cuts) and large, hand bound books (Black Drawings) that use figures resembling those found in tribal art as a reflection on how modernist artist has appropriated tribal images to create their own pieces.
Downstairs, a whole range of pieces demonstrated the vast range of work on show in the main gallery. The pieces drew from a wide range of mediums, but the most anticipated piece was Gaiden, the video by Larry Achiampong and David Blandy. These two artists take inspiration from psychiatrist Frantz Fanon, who examined the impact of colonialism and decolonisation on mental health.
As a whole, the exhibition had an almost tangible feeling of rebellion. Even visually gentle, warm pieces such as Barbara Walker’s Attitude forces you to question the unique obstacles that African Diaspora artists continue to have to face today.
The exhibition is beautifully curated and excellently laid out, and is sure to provoke your interest, forcing you to question the role of culture, heritage and race in art today. It is certainly not to be missed.