The art world is finally waking up to its dire need for more representation in the work it exhibits and the artists it supports. With this realisation comes a series of exciting new exhibitions, each designed to give a platform to artists who previously have been denied a voice. From immersive cultural experiences to visual activism through photography, this is our pick of the best exhibitions in London showcasing work from black artists this season.
This first ever UK-commission for Nigerian-American artist Toyin Ojih Odutola is specifically created for The Curve – the Barbican Centre’s 90-metre long gallery. In it, Odutola invents an ancient myth, creating a narrative via 40 pastel, chalk and charcoal drawings. Through these, the artist encourages her viewers to piece together the story and create their own interpretation.
The myth is set within a surreal landscape inspired by the rock formations of Nigeria’s Plateau State. In it, a prehistoric society is dominated by female rulers and served by male labourers, making viewers question the power dynamics they see. These drawings are further supported an accompanying immersive soundscape from conceptual sound artist Peter Adjaye and a new text from acclaimed writer Zadie Smith. Combined, these elements form an unmissable cultural event.
Toyin Ojih Odutola: A Countervailing Theory; until 24 January 2021; Barbican Centre, Silk Street, City of London, EC2
It’s exciting times for Addis Fine Art as the black-owned gallery relocates in October to take up permanent residency in Kensington’s Cromwell Place. This move will be marked by Pillars of Life, the new location’s inaugural exhibition of work by Ethiopian modernist Tadesse Mesfin – his first ever European solo show.
Mesfin is renowned for spearheading the Ethiopian modernist movement, and has influenced a whole generation of the country’s contemporary artists thanks to his role as an educator at the Alle School of Fine Art and Design in Addis Ababa. In his latest work, he celebrates the women working as vendors in markets across Ethiopian cities, highlighting their importance in these communities. Expect regal, floating figures in Mesfin’s signature loose brushstrokes.
Pillars of Life, 27 October – 15 November; 1 – 5 Cromwell Place, South Kensington, SW7
Photographer and self-proclaimed ‘visual activist’ Zanele Muholi has been documenting and celebrating the lives of South Africa’s LGBTQIA+ community since the early 2000s – a group which still remains a target for violence and prejudice today. This retrospective brings together 260 photographs from their practise, featuring works which have been exhibited and praised all over the world.
In their work, Muholi explores themes including labour, racism, Eurocentrism and sexual politics. As well as tender moments, the artist captures LGBTQIA+ community members currently facing oppression and discrimination in South Africa, as well as a series of powerful self-portraits. The result is a collection of thought-provoking yet beautiful images.
5 November – 7 March 2021; Tate Modern, Bankside, SE1
British artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye has been heralded as one of the most important artists and writers working in the UK today – a result of her having been awarded the prestigious Carnegie Prize in 2018 (and previously being shortlisted for the Turner Prize). This exhibition, Fly In League with the Night, will be the most extensive survey of her work to date.
Having previously said, ‘I write about the things I can’t paint and paint the things I can’t write about’, Yiadom-Boakye’s work is often created in spontaneous and instinctive burst. Her painting depicts fictitious characters created from her imagination, which are both familiar and mysterious. The result is a collection of haunting images that raise important questions over identity and representation – topics which need to be discussed today.
Fly In League with the Night; 18 November 2020 – 9 May 2021; Tate Britain, Millbank, Pimlico, SW1