October marks the start of Black History Month 2023 in the UK, a time to reflect on the important roles that Black people have played in our society throughout history, examine their presentation today and look forward to a better future. Here we’ve rounded up the events taking place across London for those looking to educate and enlighten themselves, both this Black History Month and beyond.
The Glossary Edit
Black History Month 2023
Brilliant Black British History
The Black Cultural Archives
5 October – 5 November
Every month is Black History Month at the BCA, known for being the home of Black British History and the leading voice for the Windrush Generation in London. This month they’re launching Brilliant Black History, which has been created in partnership with Bloomsbury Publishing and aims to introduce young minds to the diverse heritage that makes up Britain today.
Based on a book of the same name, the exhibition provides a compelling story of the history of Britain, focusing on a part of our past that has mostly been left out of the history books: Black British history. From science and sport to education and law, the show shines new light on complex historical topics such as the world wars, slavery, the industrial revolution, Windrush and the Black Lives Matter movement.
JD Malat gallery
11 October – 11 November
Following on from his sold-out show in 2021, Dreaming of Identity, Ghanaian expressionist artist Kojo Marfo is back to host his second solo show, Crucible of Hope, at the JD Malat gallery in Mayfair. Opening in parallel with Frieze week, the gallery has also partnered with chic neighbourhood spot Mister Nice to showcase a large piece of Marfo’s artwork in their restaurant during the show’s run.
Marfo’s striking, brightly coloured artworks are influenced by his Ghanaian upbringing, as well as his teenage years spent in Brooklyn and his recent time living in various cities around the UK. As a self-proclaimed afro expressionist, Marfo finds inspiration in traditional Akan artefacts, particularly armless wooden fertility dolls with rounded heads, but there are also nods to European court paintings in his works, which are all fused with contemporary techniques.
The Black British Book Festival
27 and 28 October
Bestselling author Candice Braithwaite, gal-dem founder Liv Little and BBC newsreader Clive Myrie are just some of the names on the line-up for this two-day festival that celebrates black British authors across all genres. Now in its third year, it was first set up to break down barriers to entry into the publishing industry and provide an important educational platform for new and emerging talent.
For the first time, the Black British Book Festival is partnering with the Southbank Centre’s London Literature Festival and brings a memoir launch from Leigh-Anne Pinnock (27 Oct) and a day of events celebrating Black British authors across all genres (28 Oct) to the London Literature Festival programme. A wide range of literary-themed events is planned for the weekend, from panel discussions and workshops designed to help fledgling writers master their voice, to readings from top authors. There’ll also be a marketplace where you can stock up on all the latest releases and a grand finale event featuring poetry and spoken word.
Frank Walter: Artist, Gardener, Radical
The Garden Museum
4 October 2023 – 25 February 2024
This show at the Garden Museum marks the first major UK exhibition of Frank Walter, one of the most significant Caribbean visual artists of the 20th century. The show has been designed to transport visitors to Walter’s ‘castle on a hill’ studio in Antigua, bringing together over 100 of his paintings and sculptures, the majority of which have never been exhibited before.
Walter lived an extraordinary life – alongside his creative output, he became the first person of colour in Antigua to manage a sugar plantation at just 22, followed by an (unsuccessful) campaign to become Prime Minister on a visionary environmental and social justice platform. Over his lifetime he produced a prolific body of work exploring environmentalism, Caribbean and Black identity, social justice and the complexity of nature. This exhibition focuses on the last 25 years of his life on Bailey’s Hill in rural Antigua, where he established his oceanside studio and garden.
Africa Fashion Week London
27 - 29 October
Billed as being the largest African fashion catwalk in London, Africa Fashion Week London returns for its 13th edition, taking place at the Institute of Directors on Pall Mall. Grab a front row seat to watch vibrant and colourful catwalk showcases featuring designer collections from all over the continent, browse exclusive afro-centric designs in the exhibition marketplace and tune in to inspiring panel talks from leading experts in fashion and sustainability.
This year, there’s also set to be an exclusive musical performance on Saturday 28 October, with Prince Michael Kiladejo and Grace Boyega delivering a live debut performance of their hotly anticipated single Ebony Queen. If there’s ever been a time to brush up on the exciting creative talent coming out of Africa, this is it.
Wangari Mathenge: A Day of Rest
The Pippy Houldsworth Gallery
7 October – 4 November
A Day of Rest is Wangari Mathenge’s second solo exhibition in London, and is made up of paintings and a room-size installation from her new series, which was inspired by the plight of domestic workers in Kenya. To create the pieces, Mathenge invited 20 female domestic workers to her studio and in the resulting portraits, each woman poses with an object of personal importance, as a way of taking control of their own stories.
Mathenge’s powerful figurative works are known for exploring the diasporic experience of establishing oneself away from one’s cultural origin and home, and these new pieces follow that thread. In the monumental paintings, Mathenge gives visibility to a marginalised group often dehumanised in media representations and compels us to consider each of these women as individuals, challenging our attitudes to their profession.
1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair
12 – 15 October
Always a highlight on the annual art calendar, 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair is back for its eleventh and largest-ever installment, featuring 62 exhibitors from 31 countries. Held at Somerset House, come to browse over 170 artists working across an array of mediums, from painting and sculpture to mixed media and installation. You’ll find works from more established artists including Joana Choumali, Ibrahim El-Salahi and Soly Cissé shown alongside emerging talents, where names to look out for include Josué Comoe, Anya Paintsil and Edozie Anedu.
One particular highlight is the installation by Moroccan artist Amine El Gotaibi, Illuminate the Light, which is his most ambitious work to date. Made up of 12 geometric sculptures, each one transforms into a luminous installation as soon as dusk falls, to represent the artist’s philosophy that ‘out of darkness, light emerges’.
The Missing Thread
21 September – 7 January 2024
This seminal new fashion exhibition at Somerset House offers an exploration into the shifting landscape of Black British culture and the contribution it has made to Britain’s rich fashion design history, from the 1970s to the present day.
A generation of Black creativity is celebrated in The Missing Thread through works by renowned and unsung names across art, design and, of course, fashion. On display are original commissions by contemporary Black designers including Bianca Saunders and Nicholas Daley, while the show concludes by spotlighting the late Joe Casely-Hayford OBE, presenting the first ever major staging of pieces from the designer’s archive.
Rhythm in Resilience Festival
Royal Opera House
Until 31 October
In honour of Black History Month, The Royal Ballet is presenting Rhythm in Resilience, a new festival that celebrates Black excellence within the company over the years. Curated by Joseph Toonga, the Royal Ballet’s Choreographic Residency 23/24, the festival will highlight the stories of Black individuals through multiple platforms and conversations, while exploring future opportunities for diversifying the Royal Ballet and the wider ballet sector.
Highlights from the programme include an evening of performance and discussion held by Joseph Toonga and Kenneth Tharp spotlighting diversity and dance, a discussion with Cassa Pancho MBE, founder and artistic director of Ballet Black, and Island Movements, a performance piece by the Black British Ballet Project that explores the impact of Windrush on the current generation.
Young, Gifted & Black
Until 4 November
Curated by the theatre’s Young Peckham Coordinator Jamel Alatise, this marks Theatre Peckham’s fifth season of Young, Gifted & Black, which celebrates the voices and work of young Black artists in London. Eleven events – including four bold new plays – take place across four weeks, exploring a wide range of themes that affect the African diaspora including identity, friendship and loss.
Don’t miss the new play by writer Shamila Sulaiman, Roll Your Sleeves with Eve, a chaotic and hilarious whirlwind of a show that follows celebrity chef Eve as she tries to salvage her career after suffering a PR disaster. As part of the programme, Sulaiman will be hosting a special playwrighting workshop focusing on how to devise and write a play from scratch. The season closes with The Farm, an adaptation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm written and directed by Abi Falase set in a contemporary dystopian London.
Legacies: London Transport's Caribbean Workforce
The London Transport Museum
Until August 2024
This new exhibition at the London Transport Museum celebrates the contribution Caribbean people have made to transport in the capital. After the Second World War, the UK’s need for workers to help re-build the country coincided with the Caribbean population’s need for jobs, and this exhibition tells the stories of those who ended up as bus conductors, station staff and canteen assistants, sharing their struggles and triumphs.
The exhibition also focuses on the influence Caribbean culture has had on the capital, from iconic events such as Notting Hill Carnival to the development of the large-scale artwork for TfL’s Art on the Underground programme at Brixton Tube station, highlighting the positive impact Caribbean communities have had on the UK.
A World in Common: Contemporary African Photography
Until Jan 2024
This major show at the Tate Modern shines a light on the medium of photography across Africa today, looking at it through a contemporary lens. Osei Bonsu, Tate’s Curator of International Art, has brought together 36 artists from different generations and geographies, arranging their work thematically to reflect perspectives on everything from Africa’s cultural heritage and spirituality to urbanisation and climate change.
Around 100 works are on display at A World in Common: Contemporary African Photography, ranging from regal and family portraits to snapshots of vanishing cities and bleak images of post-industrial ruin. The hang sets out to challenge the conventional snapshot of a nation that has been broadly defined by Western images ever since photography was invented in the 19th century.