While around here we celebrate Black History Month 365 days out of the year (with extra seasoning added in February), over in the UK, that observation is reserved for the month of October. This year, as a part of a special series recognizing Black British culture, British artists are planning a project inspired by an iconic Black American photograph by recreating the classic 1958 image, ‘A Great Day in Harlem.’
The original photo, shot by then novice photographer Art Kane, featured 57 of the best jazz musicians of the time, and is now recognized as one of the most iconic images in music history. In fact, many reproductions have been staged in the city of Harlem and beyond including; ‘A Great Day in Hip Hop’ shot in 1998 featuring 177 hip-hop artists, and the most recent homage, ‘A Great Day in Hollywood,’ shot in 2018, produced by Netflix to highlight 47 Black actors, writers, and showrunners.
Back over the pond, The Black Cultural Archives based in South London are organizing established and emerging artists to take part in the project which will also mark the 40th anniversary of the British Black Arts Movement. The National Black Art Convention established in 1982, was foundational to the movement, and helped to establish the careers of many Black artists of the era, including Sonia Boyce, and Keith Piper.
According to The Guardian, Lisa Anderson, the managing director of the Black Cultural Archives said that the decision was made to recreate the historic photograph in celebration of the 40th anniversary in effort to “document the community.”
“I want to celebrate the community, and want there to be a sense of the importance of being documented through photography. We wanted to enrich the archive, in particular the way the archive represents the history of some of the pioneering and emerging art makers from the black community,” she added.
Anderson also mentioned that the concept was borrowed from Tomorrow’s Warriors, a jazz organization in the UK that also paid homage to ‘A Great Day in Harlem’ with their own version, ‘A Great Day in London.’
“We’re borrowing the concept because we haven’t seen any photograph which documents black British visual artists, and I think it will create an aid for people to go and do further research and engagement with its history, and to also inspire people to pursue their passion for visual art.”
Charlie Phillips, regarded as one of Britain’s greatest photographers, has been pegged to shoot the project.
“There’s a missing gap in our history, because not a lot has been documented by us, for us,” the photographer shared.
In addition to the photo project, other cultural arts related celebrations are planned throughout the city including the unveiling of a new public artwork commemorating victims of the transatlantic slave trade in one of its parks.
Linett Kamala, one of the directors of Notting Hill Carnival, and the founder of Lin Kam Art, will be unveiling the mural, and states that it represents the “huge, fantastic contribution that the black community has made to the borough”.
Kamala added: “The park has a number of murals, but there isn’t anything that reflects the transatlantic slave trade, although the park is named [after] the prime minister’s father who received the largest [slavery] compensation payout. The artwork will be a place, we hope, where people will gather, where we can have these conversations.”