Friday 25 August 2017


“Art is a way to express oneself, it’s not about race or colour, but this exhibition is about giving a voice to a community so as not to forget,” says Elaine Harris, a British art consultant, speaking of a popular show at London’s Tate Modern.

The exhibition, Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, takes 1963 as its starting point – “the height of the Civil Rights movement and its dreams of integration” – and brings together 150 artworks by more than 60 artists.

Benny Andrews: Did the Bear Sit Under a Tree, 1969.
Emmanuel Collection (c) Estate of  Benny Andrews
/DACS, London/VAGA, NY
Many of the works were created during the emergence of “more militant calls for Black Power". This was a "rallying cry for African American pride, autonomy and solidarity, drawing inspiration from newly independent African nations”, says the Tate, one of the largest museums for international modern and contemporary art.

It adds that artists responded to these times “by provoking, confronting, and confounding expectations”, and that their momentum makes for an “electrifying” visual journey.

“It’s certainly an eye opener to see the work of many talented artists, from all walks of life,” said Harris, who visits numerous exhibitions as part of her work representing renowned artists.

“The show highlights the injustices of the time and makes you look at America from a different point of view,” she told SWAN. “You can see what the artists were experiencing: oppression, shorter lives, less wealth, and very little liberty.”

Curated by Zoe Whitley, Soul of a Nation includes paintings, photography, murals, collage, clothing designs and sculptures. 

Some of the artists “engage with legendary figures from the period, with paintings in homage to political leaders Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Angela Davis, musician John Coltrane and sporting hero Jack Johnson,” the Tate says. Muhammad Ali appears in a famous painting by Andy Warhol.

This exhibition is an unusual chance to see remarkable art from an era that changed how some artists approached their work, according to the Tate. It also comes at a pertinent time, given recent divisive occurrences in the United States, and is sparking discussion about racism. American singer Solange Knowles, for instance, is collaborating with the Tate by showing videos of her work that reflect her view of Black womanhood, the museum announced in August.

Soul of a Nation runs until 22 Oct. 2017, at the Tate Modern, Bankside, London, England.

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Thursday 10 August 2017


The Jamaica Jamaica! exhibition: in Paris but departing soon. (SWAN)
As travellers stream through the Gare du Nord train station in Paris, they can’t help but notice several huge placards featuring musicians in an array of poses and distinctive clothing.

Those who stop to examine the images more closely learn that the posters are ads for the blockbuster Jamaica Jamaica! exhibition, now in its final days at the Philharmonie de Paris, a cultural institution within Paris’ immense Cité de la Musique complex in the northeast of the French capital.

A worker stands before a placard at the train station.
The exhibition is France’s first large-scale presentation on the history and impact of Jamaican music, and it has attracted thousands of visitors since it began in April at the Philharmonie, which focuses on music in all its forms.

As the show winds down and gets ready to move on, it is still pulling in viewers, thanks to ads such as those at the station (including on the monitors showing departures and arrivals) and  to special events such as workshops and meetings.

In fact, on Aug. 8, the exhibition was the venue for a reception hosted by the Embassy of Jamaica, to mark the island’s 55th anniversary of independence from Britain.

“The exhibition not only showcases Jamaica's rich musical heritage from mento to ska to reggae and dancehall, it is also about Jamaica's political history, our journey from colonialism to independence as well as the post-independence period ,” said Ambassador Vilma McNish, who welcomed a group of France-based Jamaicans to the Philharmonie, some of whom were seeing the exhibition for the second or even the third time.

Nyabinghi percussion - some of the instruments on display.
“Each visit teaches you something new, as you take note of some exhibits you hadn’t seen before,” McNish added.

For many visitors, one of the most notable aspects of Jamaica Jamaica! is the care that the organizers have taken to go beyond reggae and to give an overall view of the history of Jamaican music, tracing it back to its African roots.

This is achieved while also highlighting the unquestionable contributions of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Jimmy Cliff, the I-Threes and other renowned artists and producers.

“We wanted to show the culture as well as the music and to show that Jamaican music is an important part of the history of the Black Atlantic,” said exhibition project manager Marion Challier, in an interview prior to the opening.

“There are so many stereotypes about the music and so many stigmas attached and we wanted to go beyond that.”
Challier and curator Sébastien Carayol have also focused on the role that art and literature play in portraying the music, with works by master painters such as Kapo and Barrington Watson on display, alongside portraits of musicians by Danny Coxson (see:
Photos of Bob Marley at Jamaica Jamaica!
In the centre’s bookstore, a wide range of books by Jamaican and other writers (in English and French) are also on sale, many of them dealing with various aspects of reggae and Jamaican culture in general.

But the show naturally contains elements that haven’t pleased everyone. Some visitors have questioned the prominence given to dancehall towards the end of the display, wondering if the less-admirable facets of the music should be the image that spectators take with them as they leave the exhibition.

The wording on some of the panels accompanying the exhibits has also caused puzzlement. Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, for instance, is described as seeing The Wailers’ “strong export potential” in the following terms: the “lead singer was, ideally, mixed-race and able to tone down his Jamaican accent when necessary”.

Despite such factors, the exhibition’s unprecedented scope and its impressive assemblage of instruments, records, artwork and film footage have done much to highlight the richness of Jamaican music and its global appeal.

The show ends Aug. 13, and the organizers say they hope parts of it will travel to other major cities ... perhaps even via the Gare du Nord. The dream, too, is that it will one day reach Jamaica.