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‘In the Black Fantastic’ dubbed best exhibition of summer

London’s Hayward Gallery opens a new show featuring 11 artists from the African diaspora and, according to critics, it’s must-see. 

Kara Walker and Nick Cave are just two of the artists showing in the Hayward Gallery’s ‘In The Black Fantastic’, which opened this June.

Curated by Ekow Eshun, chair of the Fourth Plinth (a London-based art commission bringing free contemporary art to Trafalgar Square), ‘In the Black Fantastic’ uses fantasy and spiritual traditions such as folklore, Afrofuturism, and science fiction, to explore racial identity.

Along with longstanding cultural traditions, the exhibition also draws inspiration from film and TV. Eshun cites Black Panther and Get Out as two key reference points for the show.

The exploration of racial belonging and the sense of being othered explored in both movies underpins ‘In the Black’s artistic themes, which Eshun says similarly explores ‘the language of fantasy from the Black perspective.’

‘I was interested in how artists explore this central question of race as a socially constructed fiction and as our lived reality by using myth or African culture survivals or spiritual practices. All these artists are conjuring new world, new visions through their work’ Eshun told Vogue.

By featuring a small number of only 11 artists, ‘In the Black’ gives each of them the space to really establish those visions.

Kara Walker uses her famous cut-out technique to explore the ideology of whiteness, while Chris Ofili reimagines ancient texts such as Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ and the Bible from a Black perspective.

‘In the Black’ also includes work by US artist Nick Cave, whose whimsical Sound Suits are rarely shown in the UK. These pieces of wearable art are constructed using found objects, notable for their lurid colour and intricate textures.

Created in response to the LAPD beating of Rodney King in 1992, the suits were designed to conceal race and encourage viewers to look without prejudice.  A new suit dedicated to George Floyd is featured as part of the exhibition.

Since its opening last month, ‘In the Black’ has stirred excited conversation amongst critics. Vogue and Dazed have both dubbed Eshun’s exhibit a ‘must-see’, and it’s easy to see why.

What makes the show so unique and exciting is its forward-facing perspective. Unlike many exhibitions exploring notions of diaspora and race, ‘In the Black’ avoids a retrospective gaze, and the feelings of loss and lamentation that usually entails.

This idea of looking ahead at what’s to come is central to Afrofuturism, a concept first coined in 1993. Its philosophy ultimately asks who owns the future, and how we can use the past to shape our interaction with it.

Credit: Telegraph

This intersection of science and history is an act of resilience in the face of a past written solely by the victors. Using art, tradition, and cultural aesthetic, ‘In the Black’ reminds us that the future is still up for grabs.

By celebrating Blackness with this futurist perspective, the exhibition ultimately celebrates Blackness as something brimming with possibility, with each artist unfurling the infinite futures this entails.

‘In the Black’ is a welcome break from the historical lens so often framing ideas of Blackness. While it’s integral that the erasure of Black history is continually unpicked, it’s refreshing to witness an artistic extrapolation of racial identity that looks ahead with a trailblazing hope.


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