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Sick Hagemeyer shop assistant, Accra in 1971, photography by James Barnor

A UK wide art show guide now Boris says we can go inside

Go forth into the world and be arty, no one in the gallery needs to know you've spent months in your tracky bottoms being a culture vacuum

24 May 2021

It’s been a long winter, and even now at the end of spring, the hail and lightning storms show no sign of abating. We can now see friends which is really amazing, yes. But after drinking wine in the rain, we all need deserve some warm cosy Art Time. Art allows you to be slow, It gives you the space to think, to have ideas, to feel things and make the links as to just exactly why you’re in your feels. 

We’ve been robbed of this space for much of the last year or so as our beloved white cubes were hollowed by stringent pandemic restrictions. However, galleries are throwing their doors open, some shows like Lynette Yiadom Boakye’s exhibit which opened in winter will finish their run and there are even a few new places so you can consume more beauty, more expression, and more culture. Here’s a list of exciting exhibitions and shows for the upcoming Summer season.

Scotland: Night Fever: Designing Club Culture

Prior to the pandemic I genuinely thought I was kind of done with clubbing. My hangovers have started to get really bad (I’m 27) and it takes me days to sort my head after. But post-Coronavirus I’ve obviously completely changed my mind, and now I genuinely do not want to do anything else but dance body to body with a bunch of sweaty strangers. I don’t want to be in someone’s kitchen having a DMC (deep meaningful chat). Please, no. 

The V&A Dundee’s exhibition on the costumes, stages and ephemera of the Scottish club scene looks fascinating. IMO we need to bring back colourful light box flooring. The club is an inherently radical space of solidarity – the exhibition’s ephemera showcases posters for Sub Club in Glasgow’s ‘Rave Against Racism’ – and the dancefloor has traditionally been a place where Queer and other marginalised communities can show their love for each other. Night Fever looks to be a fun way to celebrate that history.

V&A Dundee, open now until January 2022

People dancing in the hey day of club culture
This is exactly what we can’t do right now. Photography by Bill Bernstein, courtesy of V&A Dundee

London: Her Voice 

Karen Alexander has curated a series of films that celebrate brilliant Black women vocalists. The series includes Billie (2019), James Erskine’s documentary about the life and music of Billie Holiday, and The Wiz (1978), a black remix of The Wizard of Oz with Diana Ross as Dorothy. In her introduction to the series on the BFI website, Karen frames the series as a reflection on the ways in which Black women have marshalled their triumphs alongside their pain to change the music industry, in ways they were sometimes rewarded for and sometimes not. More than anything, Alexander says the series is a celebration of the joy these women found in their artistry. “The artists in this season refused to let anything hold them back, overcoming personal setbacks and systemic barriers to express their vulnerability and joy through song,” she wrote.

BFI Southbank, London, open now until 31 May

A still from The Wiz
A still from The Wiz, starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson’s old face (far right)

London: Memories Gave Birth to Hope, Part Two

As mentioned earlier, I’m now only interested in dancing. Jagdeep Raina’s new show at Soft Opening considers the history of Bhangra, a now internationally beloved style of dance music originally created by industrial working-class South Asian migrants in the second half of the 20th century. The bright illustrative works on paper and intricate textile art that make up the show arrive out of Jagdeep’s archival research, reflecting on a “tangled dialogue between imperialism and self-expression”. This closes on 30 May, so get there soon!

Soft Opening, 28 April – 30 May 2021

The Soft Opening gallery wall

Manchester: Soul Journey to Truth

This exhibition at HOME Manchester showcases the work of 135 artists currently in the criminal justice system, curated by Brenda Birungi from entrants to the 2020 Koestler Awards. Brenda is Lady Unchained, a poet and the founder of Unchained Poetry, an organisation that aims to prove that there is life after prison. In an interview for HOME MCR, Brenda said that her intentions for the exhibition is to “tell the story of what it takes to be creative in prison, in a facility where your freedom has been taken away”. If you’re not local to the show, you can listen to the accompanying playlist of songs by women musicians in prison, which Brenda says in her interview is a way of “reassuring those women, it’s okay, we can’t see you right now, but we can hear you, and we want to see you and hear you properly together as a whole”.

HOME MCR, open now until June 6

Courtesy of Home MCR

London: James Barnor retrospective

The Serpentine North presents a retrospective of the long career of British-Ghanaian photographer James Barnor. The photojournalist and photo-documentarian, moved between Ghana and the UK, depicting both the lives of Black Londoners and the intellectual and artistic world of Ghana on the brink of independence. James photographed love, adventure and fun, and many of his wonderful portraits are instantly recognisable. His thoughtful use of both colour and grayscale is stunning. Very interesting bit of trivia: the Serpentine North’s write up of the show mentions that James Barnor set up Ghana’s first colour photography processing lab. 

Serpentine North, 19 May – 22 October 2021

A woman leans on a car, shot by James Barnor
Photography by James Barnor, courtesy of Serpentine North

Gateshead/ Cambridge: Sutepa Biswas

Sutepa Biswas comes to Kettle’s Yard for a solo show in October. The British-Indian artist was a vital contributor to the antiracist and feminist British Black Arts Movement, which arrived out of the work of the Blk Art Group, and led the way in decolonising both the British art scene and art criticism. The show spans the arc of Biswas’ career, as she moves seamlessly through mediums. Iconic works by Biswas that consider women’s lives under imperialism, including Housewife with Steak-knives (1985) and the short film Kali (1984), will be present. The exhibition will also present Lumen, a new film developed over 2020-2021, which ‘maps a semi-fictional narrative of migration’. Lumen will also be showing at the BALTIC Centre for Creative Art in Gateshead from 26 June, before touring other venues across the UK.

Kettle’s Yard, 16 October – 30 January 2022

Photography by Sutapa Biswas

London: The Self Portrait

Self-portraits have always been a radical way for artists to centre themselves in their work and confront viewers’ expectations. The Self Portrait at Home, photographer and fashion designer Ronan Mckenzie’s new London-based gallery, makes visible the eye behind the camera, inviting Black women photographers to turn the lens on themselves. Ronan, who curated the free-to-visit show herself, comments on the gallery’s website that The Self Portrait “is an acknowledgement of the value of archiving the photographic history of Black photographers in the UK while simultaneously making visible and remembering the people who were at the forefront (or behind the scenes) of that history”. You can view the exhibition on Home’s website, but it’s worth visiting the space itself. Home intends itself to be just that – a space that works to be “personal and communal”, according to its website, with an emphasis on supporting Black and Indigenous artists. The space includes a library and creative workspace alongside the gallery. 

Home by Ronan McKenzie, open now until June 27

Photography by Olivia Lifungula, courtesy of Home by Ronan McKenzie