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Saatchi Gallery’s new exhibition spotlights Black visionaries

The New Black Vanguard features photographers Campbell Addy and Tyler Mitchell, spotlighting Black visionaries at the intersection of art and fashion. 

The Saatchi Gallery’s latest show, ‘The New Black Vanguard’, is – as its name would suggest – a celebration of Blackness.

Photographer Campbell Addy, whose work features in the exhibit and whose vision helped bring it to life, is one of a number of Black photographers working at the intersection of art and fashion.

‘The New Black Vanguard’ is a visual delight filled with beautiful colours, clothes, and people.

It is not a superficial display of Black identity. The show’s linchpin is its command to rejoice in the work of these artists, in a way that isn’t simply skin deep.

‘I don’t want people to come here and just see Black people’ Addy said of the exhibition. Addy is a London-based photographer and filmmaker whose work has been featured in fashion’s biggest spaces, including Vogue, The Cut, and New York Magazine.

This show is one of the first  large-scale displays of his work in an institutional setting. It seems fitting, given Addy’s long-time flirtation with both art and fashion. His work is difficult to define in this sense, often as provocative and daring as it is commercially successful.

Antwaun Sargent, who curated ‘The New Black Vanguard’, shares Addy’s disdain for a vapid reception of Blackness within creative spaces.

‘The images say that Blackness is not a monolith’ Sargent stated.

‘They say that there is great diversity in the Black community. They say that aesthetic concerns are varied. Formally they are blending different genres of photography, from landscape imagery to portraiture, to construct new images that reflect their individual realities.’

True to its efforts of honouring Black creatives in all their differences, the exhibit showcases 15 photographers and more than 100 portraits, fashion editorials, and test shoots. These works span multiple geographies – both in their provenance and reception.

‘We started the exhibition in New York’ Sargent explained, ‘and then it toured across America, Doha, France, Sweden, Switzerland… We add a new wave of up-and-coming photographers in every city. And, now, here we are in London.’

For Sargent, the decision to bring the show to the UK capital was a natural next step.

‘Campbell and Nadine and so many of the other artists all live and work here, Tyler also spends a lot of his time here, and London is such a huge part of the African diaspora. It was important that the images were seen here’ he told Vogue.

Speaking of the show’s title, Sargent describes it as ‘ a timestamp but […] also a question mark. Like, what is a Black vanguard? Why is it there? Why hasn’t it been before? It’s a space where we can pose these questions and have longevity’ says Sargent.

Addy hopes the show can be a reference point for other young artists, describing his own experiences as a student struggling to find Black voices in the art spaces he learnt within. Though he treads carefully around the term ‘Black Vanguard’.

‘I think of titles like the YBAs. Every collective that has a label is a pinpoint on the timeline of history. Never before have we seen such a huge group of Black people creating work within fashion, photography, and art at the same time.’

Sargent is also keen to interrogate our idea of Blackness, and our tendency to fall back on lazy notions of difference and identity when giving Black voices space in the artworld.

‘When we talk about this word ‘diversity’, often what we are saying is, ‘We have all these Black people in the room. It’s diverse!’ And I’m like, no. There are real layers throughout the Black diaspora.’

‘Every one of these photographers is coming from a very different place from within Blackness. There is a multiplicity that exists within our identities.’

This is why, for Sargent, the medium of photography is so important. As Blackness has been misrepresented over time, it’s imperative that Black visionaries behind the lens are just as – if not more – important than their subjects.

‘Seeing our work, art, and commerce in a gallery is new, it’s exciting, but it’s not a trend’ says Addy. ‘The success of the show proves that it’s only up from here.’

‘The New Black Vanguard’ is now showing at the Saatchi Gallery until 22nd January 2023.