South London Black Music Archive catalogues local musical tastes at Peckham Space

By Mark Sheerin | 03 February 2012
Colour photo of a black and white map with notes pinned to it
The South London Black Music Archive map of South London© Culture24
Exhibition: The South London Black Music Archive, Peckham Space, London, until March 24 2012

Before she can show me the most recent addition to the South London Black Music Archive, gallery assistant Sarah McLean dons white gloves. But what emerges from her folder is no more ancient than a newspaper published by the Black Panthers.

Other historic items in the reverent care of McLean and her colleagues include a Fugees t-shirt (record number E0009), cassettes by De La Soul, Tricky and Public Enemy (B0017) and the printed lyrics to a Lenny Kravitz song (G100015/3). All gallery staff are fully trained in the ways of the catalogue.

This tension between the ephemeral and the permanent provides a dynamic hook for this community-minded show. Artist Barby Asante has provided the boxes, folders, display cases and listening posts; Peckham locals have provided the rest.

Black music may not even be the real attraction here. Because along with t-shirts on hangers and magazines in bags, what visitors can also witness is the transformative power of a gallery and the way a dry-as-dust filing system can bestow gravity on an oft-overlooked area of culture.

In my time here, two passersby ducked inside and volunteered new exhibits. Indeed, most of the contents are on loan. But there are plans to establish a long term home for permanent exhibits from the SLBMA at the Black Cultural Archives in Kennington.

A wall rack with items of music memorabilia hanging in bags from pegs
Memorabilia that won't be forgotten at the SLBMA© Culture24
And there is no dust settling on a mural-like map of South London on one wall. This is dotted with the most significant venues and record shops between Eel Pie Island in the West and the Thames Delta in the East. There is nothing North of the river.

It is covered with the notes left by dozens of visitors, who have texted the gallery with their formative South London Black Music memories. This show reminds us that people, on the whole, find music easier to approach than art.

My favourite exhibit was an essay written by a local DJ who had a musical epiphany at a Jazz FM weekender. Debra Richards writes: "These artists and producers tapped into something as long lasting as Debussy or Bach, well in my opinion anyway." And thanks in part to this inclusive show, that opinion is surely fact.
  • Open 11am-5pm Tuesday-Friday (4pm Saturday). Admission free.

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