Staying Power: Photography of Black British Experience 1950s – 1990s


The V&A has recently opened a new exhibition in collaboration with Black Cultural Archives to document the experiences of black Britons over the last 50 years as well as to showcase some of the talented photographers involved. Half of the photographs are displayed at the V&A while the rest are in Brixton, where the Black Cultural Archives, are based and the exhibition is strengthened by this split as there is less pressure to rush past each photograph in order to see everything. I returned to my favourites several times, one of which (right) was by J.D. ’Okhai Ojeikere and was part of a selection of traditional Nigerian headties accompanied by different braided hairstyles. The headties were each so carefully structured and almost architectural when photographed in black and white and it was clear that a great deal of thought was involved, as with the intricate hairstyles as well.

Other images focused on the daily lives of black Britons and ranged from impromptu snapshots of beauty pageants to styled scenes. However, I was touched by the series of portraits of people formally posing in their home – these were sent back to relatives abroad to demonstrate how well settled and prosperous the sitter was. One man carefully leans on a TV in his best suit whilst another has a child playing with a telephone. Throughout the exhibition the people looking out of the photographs are ambitious and proud of who they are, despite any hostile or deprived surroundings, and I look forward to learning more about this heritage when I get a chance to visit the exhibition in Brixton.

The V&A exhibition is only short (and free!) and there is plenty of time to visit it as it is open until May 24th. The exhibition in Brixton is open for longer and can be seen until June 30th and I will hopefully write about this soon!

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