Staying power - a potent dose of Jamaican culture in London
The internationally acclaimed Victoria & Albert Museum in London describes itself as the largest collection of art and design in the world, and recently, the museum opened a compelling exhibition of photographs that chronicles the Black British Experience from the 1950s to the 1990s.
The collection of 118 works by 17 artists dubbed 'Staying Power' is already attracting hundreds of eyeballs from both art and design professionals as well as from curious admirers who have been pouring into the museum daily to see the photographs.
A part of the objective of Staying Power is to increase the number of Black British photographers and images of Black Britain in the Victoria and Albert collection. The exhibition also wants to raise awareness about the powerful contribution of Black Britons to British culture and society as well as to the art of photography.
No such photographic narrative would be complete without the contribution of Jamaicans, and four of the 17 participating photographers - some deceased - are Jamaican nationals who emigrated to Britain. They include Dennis Morris, who was very active in Hackney in the 60s and 70s and who puts a big focus on music and the Jamaican sound system culture. Charlie Phillips is another featured Jamaican national and he moved to Notting Hill from Jamaica in 1956.
The black and white images of Neil Kenlock are intriguing, and his shots are mostly of Jamaicans in a natural home setting posing triumphantly, surrounded by their newly acquired material possessions. The sole Jamaican female photographer, Maxine Walker, may have been one of the world's first 'selfie' photographers, and she did extensive studies photographing herself while exploring her own racial and cultural identity through the dramatically different frames.
This exhibition offers a clear perspective of the lives of people of Caribbean and African descent in Britain. The themes in Staying Power range from beauty pageants, hair styles and pretty faces to more profound issues such as race, identity, and defining and confronting a transplanted yet dominant culture.
The Victoria and Albert Museum was the first museum in the world to collect photographs, and the museum is home to more than half a million photos. Staying Power was developed in collaboration with Black Cultural Archives, a Brixton-based organisation that collects, preserves, and celebrates the heritage and history of Black people in Britain. The exhibition is free to the public and was funded by Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and curated by Victoria & Albert staff photographic specialist Marta Weiss, who boasts a PhD in the history of photography. Staying Power runs at the Victoria & Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, London until May 24, 2015.
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1. A photograph by Dennis Morris of Count Shelly Sounds in London, 1974
2. A 'selfie' by Maxine Walker who lives and works in Birmingham. Her photographs are well known for challenging the stereotypes of race and identity in Britain.