Looking Both Ways At The Stephen Lawrence Gallery

By Kate Smith | 11 April 2006
photo shows black woman sitting on ornate chair before eighteenth century portrait

England's Heritage: Portrait No 3 (Asher Herman) by Errol Francis, 2006. Courtesy of the Stephen Lawrence Gallery

Look Both Ways is a small exhibition by four artists looking at 'memory and reinvention in the postcolonial era'.

The weight of history on Black experience is the subject of the work and many pieces echo the slave trade and the absence of Black experience from the historical picture. It’s appropriately placed in Greenwich where the maritime link means that profit from slavery is a part of the area's history.

Wafting through the gallery is Handel's Messiah - "come unto him ye that are heavy laden" put to ironic use in Godfried Donkor's Jamestown Masquerade - and then the sound of African music.

Two of the pieces on show are videos that play with the clash of the cosy "heritage" of the past, and the realities that underlay it. Conversely, Clive Kofi Allen's Vogue-like shots of beautiful and powerful black women subverted by leashes around their necks brings the shock of the past and its continuing impact to the present.

Still, this is an art rather than a history exhibition, and it's clear that the four artists - Errol Francis, Godfried Donkor, Mary Evans and Clive Kofi Allen are impatient with straightforward analyses of their work.

photo shows two masked black women by seashore

Jamestown Masquerade, DVD still 2006, by Godfried Donkor. Courtesy of the Stephen Lawrence Gallery.

The exhibition title "Look Both Ways" primarily refers to looking back and forwards in time - but the curator also playfully makes references to crossing the road - the need for caution and the traps that potentially await artists who deal with these subjects.

According to the exhibition programme: "Artists are obliged to look both ways. Additional hazards await artists choosing to make the black body their subject matter; they soon find themselves in a cultural ghetto. It appears that the glare of blackness is blinding to a cultural mainstream."

In 2007 there will be major commemorations of the Slave Trade and the 1807 Act that officially abolished it in Britain. It's likely that the links between many of the heritage sites that "don't have anything to do with Black history" but were nevertheless built on Caribbean sugar, will come up again for scrutiny.

Perhaps this coherent and well-curated show will give the organisers of the 2007 commemorations some clues as to how to go navigate some of the issues and complexities of the post colonial era.

photo shows glossy image of black woman dressed in white with white leash

Cipher the Beautiful by Clive Kofi Allen. Courtesy of the Stephen Lawrence Gallery.

Finding the Stephen Lawrence Gallery

Although open to all during the week, the Stephen Lawrence Gallery is a little hard to find the first time you visit. The street address is here. Once you arrive, walk through the main black iron campus gates, and follow the road all the way down to the end of the site. Turn right after you've passed the last building: a door halfway down is the entrance to the gallery.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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