Like many textile artists I find enjoyment and inspiration in a diverse range of creative expression including music and graphic illustration. Today I popped into the Victoria and Albert Museum to attend a talk, part of their Art and Existence: African and Asian Diaspora Explored series. These talks feature leading external practitioners and are organised by a wonderful lady Janet Browne, Programme Manager Black Heritage and Culture within the V&A’s Learning Department. Contact Janet at the V & A if you want to be added to her mailing list for future events.
Todays speakers were cultural practitioners Christopher Bateman and Al’ Fingers Newman. Their talk was a celebration of the work of Jamaican newspaper cartoonist Wilfred Limonious, (1949-1999).
In the early 1980s Jamaica gave birth to a new musical style called Dancehall. With its origins in the political turbulence of the late 1970s it became the dominant and powerful musical expression and social commentary of the 1980s and ’90s. “This multimodal African diasporic style is also evident in North American hip-hop and the origins of both can be traced to West African performance modes”. (1)
Graphic designer Wilfred Limonious became one of the primary visual architects of this movement.
What an enjoyable way to spend a sunny London afternoon, the talk included music, photographs and some of Wilfred’s illustrated record sleeves and his vibrant cartoons often featuring voluptuous ladies with very slim men and humorous captions. In Jamaica humour is widely used as a mechanism for dealing with hardship. The talk is accompanied by a touring exhibition and coffee table book In Fine Style: the Dancehall Art of Wilfred Limonious. You can catch the exhibition at the Tabernacle, 35 Powis Square, off Portobello Road, London W11 2AY until Sunday 29th May 2016. The book is out on 16 August 2016 published by One Love Books. I’m pleased to say the talk and exhibition will be touring Jamaica in the future.
(1) Professor Carolyn Cooper’s Encyclopaedia Britannica entry for Dancehall Music
I’ve been so busy I kept forgetting to mention this lovely little free photographic exhibition I saw at Blackhorse Lane Studios, 114 Blackhorse Lane London E17 6AA
It’s an exhibition of photography and video work created by Charlotte Mortensson featuring downtown Kingston, Jamaica. The work focuses on the built environment because Charlotte is interested in what buildings say about people and because like me she doesn’t like to take pictures of people without their consent and these days people are reluctant to have their picture taken plus it turns the whole thing into a different kind of photograph.
Charlotte has managed to penetrate Jamaica on a deeper level than the traditional visitor. She has taken time to get to know the artist community and to visit places, sadly the tourist guides tell you to avoid. Her efforts have been rewarded and she has experienced the energy and beauty of the island. Charlotte is respectful and sensitive about people and culture and this shows in her work which captures the essence of the fading grander of some of the downtown buildings. Many are crumbling due to absentee owners who refuse to allow them to be occupied yet at the same time do nothing to prevent their deterioration.
There still time to see the exhibition it’s on over the weekend until 31 August 2014 (Saturday and Sunday from 12 – 6pm).
I spent a not so pleasant evening at Somerset House, a planned visit to see the “Return of the Rude Boy”. The exhibit intro explains how the rude boy style emerged from the streets of Kingston Jamaica in the 1950s. There’s a personal account by Mark Professor placing the exhibition in the black British context describing the challenges faced by black youths growing up in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s. The school system which didn’t teach them about their identity, the job market which wouldn’t employ them and the police force which labelled them as criminals. They were forced to form their own creative expression which included sound systems from Jamaica.
So how did all that translate into a collection of photos of mostly well groomed men in nice outfits? There were sound systems in each of the rooms playing recorded music but not the kind of music usually associated with the Jamaican rude boy culture described by Mark Professor. A DJ arrived to play some revival 45s but his selection showed a woeful lack of knowledge of the music he was playing. But then as this really isn’t an authentic “rude boy” exhibition does it really matter? There’s a pop up “rude boy” barber shop offering a “rude boy trim” starting at £32 and you can see a “rude boy” film for £12. I would recommend heading to Bab Zee salon on West Green Road, Tottenham or any other local “rude bwoy” barbers for a more authentic “rude bwoy” trim, a more atmospheric “rude bwoy” setting without the not so “rude boy” £32 price tag. Oh and if you want to experience a truly authentic “rude bwoy” sound system head down to Rich Mix in Bethnal Green on 11 Sept 2014 to hear the legendary Jamaican born sound system operator and record producer Sir Lloyd Coxsone http://www.richmix.org.uk/whats-on/event/sound-system-night-with-the-legendary-sir-lloyd-coxsone/. http://www.richmix.org.uk/whats-on/event/sound-system-night-with-the-legendary-sir-lloyd-coxsone/
Return of the Rude Boy is on at Somerset House until 25 August 2014. http://www.somersethouse.org.uk/visual-arts/return-of-the-rudeboy
I left the exhibition pondering my uneasy feeling, struggling to articulate my discomfort when I found this excellent review by Kunga Dred.http://www.thebritishblacklist.com/return-rude-boy-review-photographic-exhibition-somerset-house-kunga-dred/
“Rude Boy is a rather disingenuous translation of the term ‘Rude Bwoy’ , which is a loose translation of the original ‘Bad man’ or petty gansta as depicted in the Harder they Come (1972), which starred Jimmy Cliff. The term also represents those young men who lived largely outside a community that marginalised them – their hair not the right style, their clothes not grey enough to be deemed normal. Whilst the well-turned out images donned at Somerset House invite you to look again and again, I felt, as I looked at the amount of ‘trendy’ looking Europeans who also were given the ‘rude boy’ tag, a moment of unease as their presence seemed to sanitise the combative element which the ‘true’ rude bwoy historically represented. These young black men were often just a whisker away from the hands of the authorities and if held, were beaten or even killed as their ability to eek out a cultural existence was in direct conflict to westernised hegemony of the time. On the streets of the UK young black men, worked collectively and built sound systems from pieces of MDF, speaker cones and magnets, wearing crocheted tams – or daddy’s ‘borrowed’ trilby – with Addias tracksuits and the classic Clarke boots, or Marathon TR trainers (as worn by Bob Marley). Rockers (JA), H arder They Come (JA), Babylon (U.K), Burning an Illusion (U.K), were films which depicted the ghetto politics and defiant roots-reggae stance of the original rude bwoy. Babylon and Burning an Illusion beautifully portrayed the original rude bwoy of the U.K who were doing the ‘bad man walk’ along British streets during one of the most racist periods of this country’s history. A time when, if a black man did not exude rude boy inner and outer strength, he would soon be devoured by those tasked with the role to ‘cleanse’ the streets of this mixing and blending of a politicised British society. If you view this exhibition as a show which gives a unique platform to a group of splendid sartorialists, then you will not be disappointed as all the images in some way carry the essence of those refusing to be placed in a myopic fashion box but if you if expect to hear the warrior cry of the combative rude boy who managed to look crafted and coiffed despite lack of funds and social inclusion you might see one or two holes appearing…”