Black Art Lovers, London Is the Place to Be Right Now

An unprecedented eight shows featuring black artists and photographers are on display in London for the United Kingdom’s celebration of Black History Month.

Kerry James Marshall, Untitled (Club Couple), 2014, acrylic on PVC panel, 61 by 61 inches. Copyright Kerry James Marshall 2014. All rights reserved.
Kerry James Marshall, Untitled (Club Couple), 2014, acrylic on PVC panel, 61 by 61 inches. Copyright Kerry James Marshall 2014. All rights reserved. Courtesy of David Zwirner, London

To coincide with both Black History Month in the United Kingdom and the internationally renowned Frieze art fair, there are a staggering seven exhibitions by black artists—plus a historical-archive showcase presenting formerly unseen photographs of black people in Victorian Britain—currently showing in London.

Previously unthinkable in what was once a notoriously conservative, painfully homogeneous and dolefully Eurocentric art world, we appear to be seeing the emergence of a critical mass of black visibility in art’s highest echelons, and hence at last are witnessing an exponential demand for serious black art in Europe.

Headlining at a combination of private and public galleries across London right now—and during the most prestigious few weeks in the global art calendar, to boot—are the following exhibits, along with excerpts of descriptions from their galleries.

1. Steve McQueen at the Thomas Dane Gallery

British artist and filmmaker McQueen is principally known for his films Hunger, Shame and the Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave. The exhibition “Steve McQueen: Ashes,” according to the Thomas Dane Gallery, “presents two new works. The first, entitled Ashes, 2014, is installed as an immersive projection with sound. It was shot on Super8 film with a haunting verbal soundtrack, recently recorded in Grenada. Much of the footage dates from 2002 and was taken by the legendary cinematographer, Robbie Muller. The deceptively simple film was commissioned by Espace Louis Vuitton, Tokyo and shown there earlier this year. At No. 11, we will be showing an entirely sculptural installation ‘Broken Column’, which acts as a pendant to ‘Ashes’.

2. Rotimi Fani-Kayode at Tiwani Contemporary

Rotimi Fani-Kayode (1955-1989)” is a solo retrospective of the work of this seminal figure in 1980s black British and African contemporary art. “Fani-Kayode’s photographic portraits explore complex personal and politically-engaged notions of desire, spirituality and cultural dislocation. They depict the black male body as a focal point both to interpret and probe the boundaries of spiritual and erotic fantasy, and of cultural and sexual difference. Ancestral rituals and a provocative, multi-layered symbolism fuse with archetypal motifs from European and African cultures and subcultures—inspired by what Yoruba priests call ‘the technique of ecstasy’. Hence Fani-Kayode uses the medium of photography not only to question issues of sexuality and homoerotic desire, but also to address themes of diaspora and belonging, and the tensions between his homosexuality and his Yoruba upbringing.”

3. Glenn Ligon at Camden Arts Centre