Black is the New Black

Black is the New Black

Today is the last day of Black History Month in Britain, and there is no better time to discuss the National Portrait Gallery’s new exhibition.

Black is the New Black, recognises the incredible impact of Black politicians, cultural icons and leaders in science and religion on British Culture. Fittingly, the exhibit opened at the start of Black History Month, directed by artist Simon Frederick.

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The portraits for the exhibition were shot by Frederick, as part of the BCC documentary series of the same name. Frederick’s documentary series and the exhibition should be considered in tandem with each other, to fully appreciate each subject's ‘insights into being black and [on] Britain today.’

Not only is the exhibition meticulously planned, escorting you through a gallery cascaded by stunning, illuminating portraits. The collection is also interactive, by simply downloading the exhibition app and pointing it at a particular piece, you can view clips from the people displayed. From Naomi Campbell, Alesha Dixon and Malorie Blackman to Archbishop John Sentamu, the collection’s intertwinement of cultural icons and religious figures who honestly ‘illuminate the highs and lows of this small island’s turbulent history,’ is thoroughly needed.

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Frederick’s work should be heralded as a pertinent exploration of black British culture, something that can often feel sidelined. [See our previous post; ‘Who’s Black History Month is it Anyway?’] The artist’s portraits are at once harrowing and inspiring, the subjects themselves bearing an almost regal air: Sir Trevor McDonald’s stature is striking while maintaining a hopeful undertone, and Alesha Dixon’s portrait is reminiscent of Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, conveying the entanglement of power and elegance. While portraits like Thandie Newton’s instead bear a vulnerability that is cutting on first glance; the actress seems contemplative, her thoughtful expression mimicked by the video attached to her portrait.

This collection is vibrant, beautiful and markedly different from the ~ stuffy ~ portraits of lords and barons, who are so removed from contemporary culture that they are hard to identify.

So, if you are looking for a collection to browse or want to educate yourself further about the experience of being black in Britain, look no further.

The exhibition runs until 27th January 2019, admission is free.

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