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Necklace, ‘Salt of the Earth’ collection, Ami Doshi Shah, Kenya, 2019. Courtesy Ami Doshi Shah. Photo by Sunny Dolat.

5 unmissable exhibitions to see this Black History Month

From archival films to activists reimagined, here’s a nationwide guide for art, film, and fashion-related shows to indulge in this October and beyond.

18 Oct 2022

In partnership with Art Fund.

Happy Black History Month to all who celebrate. While it is a fact that Black people are important every month of the year, during October in the UK we take special care to consider the works and contributions of Black people to this country’s culture. Several institutions around the UK have exhibits that will focus on the bold, thought-provoking vision of artists from these communities.

In 2019, the government published research into how different ethnicities in England engaged with the arts, like performing in a play, pursuing photographs, or going to see an exhibition. It found that Black people were just over 10% less likely to immerse themselves in the creative world compared to their white counterparts. So, for this Black History Month, as part of our See Us In Art project with National Art Pass, to make these spaces more accessible we have handpicked an array of things to see that show more of our own experiences and perspectives within the art.

The National Art Pass, Art Fund’s membership, is all about opening the doors to discovering something new and connecting you with museums and galleries by giving members free or reduced price entry, plus 50% off major exhibitions. The membership also helps Art Fund to support these brilliant spaces, so that they can share more art with everyone.

From fashion-forward blockbuster shows, to artistic explorations of stories, both forgotten and imaginary, these offerings are thought-provoking, beautiful, and can’t be missed.

London: We Came Here, Harold Offeh at Van Gogh House, London

50% off entry with National Art Pass.

What do Vincent Van Gogh and Olive Morris have in common? They were both South Londoners at one point.  As the name of the venue suggests, Van Gogh actually lived in this Grade II listed building, which opened up in 2019 after seven years of refurbishment to welcome displays as well as artists residencies.

This month the old and the (kind of) new collide via the We Came Here exhibition, where sound and sculptural artist Harold Offeh imagines the dialogue between Van Gogh, who arrived in Stockwell in 1873, and tenacious campaigner Olive Morris, who famously spent time in nearby Brixton a whole century later campaigning for women’s liberation, racial equality, and squatters rights. Through his studies of archives, Offeh uses performers to re-enact a meeting between artist and activist to think about their shared and differing experiences as migrants arriving in Lambeth across generations. With National Art Pass you can get 50% off this show.

Bristol: Mimesis: African Soldier, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery

John Akomfrah, Mimesis: African Soldier (film still), 2018 © John Akomfrah.

Free to all, 10% off the gift shop with National Art Pass

John Akomfrah takes us all the way back to the first world war with this exploration of the unheard stories of soldiers from the Commonwealth who helped the allied forces win. Using archival imagery of African and Asian soldiers as well as newly filmed footage reimagining the men, the film, which is soundtracked by new compositions by African and Indian artists,  sheds light on the hidden involvement of people of colour in a period of history Britain vowed never to forget.

London: Africa Fashion, V&A, London

Models holding hands, Lagos, Nigeria, 2019 by Stephen Tayo.

50% off with National Art Pass

Curated by Dr Christine Checinska, this exhibition uses items of clothing, photography, music and more to tell the story of Africa as a continent with style. Including insights from 45 designers from over 20 countries, the blockbuster display is the UK’s biggest exploration of the topic in a cultural arts space, featuring over 250 objects. It celebrates the ingenuity of designers like Thebe Magugu, a Johannesburg brand known for beautifully crafted sustainable looks with images and motifs related to African ancestry that was the first African designer to receive the LVMH prize. Alongside the exhibition, which has been on since the Summer, there are also workshops and events, for example, Christine Checinska will be in conversation with Yomi Sode for a special First Five event on 21 October. National Art Pass gets you 50% off the show and the workshops are free so you can make a day of it.

Manchester: Althea McNish: Colour is Mine, The Whitworth, Manchester

Free to all, 10% off in shop with National Art Pass

Bursting colourful contrasts, intricate lines, and tropical flora-inspired motifs – there’s such joy to the work of Althea McNish. Manchester is a city that appreciates fashion, and this retrospective exhibition, which honours the first Caribbean designer to attract worldwide acclaim, goes back into the vaults to look at a revered chapter of the industry’s history. Digging through her personal archives, the show looks at the influence McNish’s mid-century designs had as the former cartographer and illustrator injected bursts of colour into the textile industry after the second world war, a transformative time for Britain.

McNish died at the grand old age of 95 in 2020 and so this travelling exhibition is a crucial vehicle for keeping her memory alive and contextualising her work for a modern audience. It will be on until April 2023 and is free to view but the National Art Pass gets you a discount in the shop off some arty trinkets for you to take home.

Southampton: BLACK: The Graphic Novel, John Hansard Gallery, Southampton

BLACK: The Graphic Novel By Tobias Taitt and Anthony Smith

Free to all, 10% off in shop with National Art Pass

The experiences of black children in care are rarely explored, but while they make up 5% of the under-18 population they account for 7% of looked-after children and 2% of those adopted. BLACK: The Graphic Novel seeks to uncover what it’s like for kids in this system through the true local story of Tobias Taitt, who was in social care during the 70s and 80s. Navigating these difficult institutions, getting involved in crime, but also developing a knack for storytelling has resulted in a compelling tale of Southampton’s issues with class and race. The exhibition is comprised of extracts from the book as well as the illustrations that appear in it, which were drawn by Anthony Smith.

To find out more about National Art Pass and to get yours head here.