”All species are equal” – a taste of London’s summer exhibitions

”All species are equal” – a taste of London’s summer exhibitions

Bus man’s holiday! Just got back from a family holiday in the UK (and Portugal). In London we focused on main museums and public galleries, especially they appealed to my two teenagers, Anna and Oli, who are studying art at high school.

I did a quick Google search and asked my art loving relatives and mates on where to go. We didn’t have much time – four days. Hayward’s In the Black Fantastic was tempting, especially as it included Chris Ofili and I interested to see how his work has developed (I remember the elephant dung well). But we saved the South Bank for Shakespeare’s Much Ado at the National Theatre (Anna is doing English A-level). I spotted one of the exhibiting artists work, Wangechi Mutu reproduced like a large poster on the Royal Festival Hall’s side wall (I knew her work from ZMOCAA).

You couldn’t miss Hew Locke’s work, at Tate Britain. He too was included in the Black Fantastic. His Tate 2022 commission takes over all the main entrance gallery. Called The Procession, it is colourful, big and clearly referencing the Caribbean, sugar industry and slavery. While Henry Tate, the founder of the gallery, wasn’t a slave owner, the massive sugar business (Tate & Lyle) that made him so wealthy was from the labour of enslaved African people and their descendants.

Locke explains that a procession can be about protest, celebration, worship, escape, bettering oneself. “What I try to do in my works is mix ideas of discomfort, but strangely surreal at the same time.” I think he succeeded, although surreal didn’t come to my mind. Perhaps because we had already visited Tate Modern’s Surrealism Beyond Borders. A hugely researched magnum opus on Surrealism which set out to prove that it wasn’t just a Parisian affair of the 1920s  but stretched over many countries, until the 1970s. Countries included Guatemala, Belgrade, Mexico, Nagoya, Seoul and Cuba but not Southern Africa alas. I asked about this, specifically Alexis Preller and the best reply was the difficulty to transport works from so far away!

Anna’s and Oli’s favourite exhibition was at the Barbican. I wouldn’t have chosen going the City for art, especially a paying show in a smallish, curved gallery with the uninspiring title, Our Time on Earth. But we were there to see relatives. It lived up to its publicity: ‘’global creativity to transform the conversation around the climate crisis’’. The attention to detail, curation and quality were impressive and appealing. It covered many different facets – fashion to the future, both with ”real” art and digital art (it was this combination that Oli liked). My favourite part was a dinner table set up for feast for 17 different species – it looked beautiful and made me read more.

Africa Fashion was the exhibition I enjoyed the most. It was the busiest part of the V&A – upbeat, historical and contemporary. Mandela was there – in fabric and Merchants on Long founded in Cape Town, 2010, with a shop at the other V&A – the Waterfront! The politics and poetry of cloth and clothes were there in many forms – photo’s, mannequins, video’s, music and text – I loved the quotes highlighted throughout, such as.

‘’Creativity and fashion allow us to write our own narratives’’ Awa Meité, fashion creative based in Mali, 2021

“Cloth is to the African what monuments are to Westerners’’ El Anatsui echoing fellow artist Sonya Clark

Finally to the British Museum for our last exhibition Feminine Power: The Divine to the Demonic. The selectors were impressive women who I admire, with different axes to grind and backgrounds. But I searched in vein for a role model or representation that really inspired me. Oli, Anna and my friend Lizzy didn’t enjoy it much either – it was too muddled.

Oli liked, however, buying presents in the main British Museum shop. While my energy was restored by a brownie in the cafe. I was also chuffed to see on the Underground heading back, Eddy Ilunga Kamuanga’s work being used to huge posters to advertise this year’s Royal Academy’s legendary summer show

To sum up our brief experience of London’s museum and art scene, I feel it has more on women, environment and African artists, as well as broadening the Western art history cannon and narrative – yay!

What do you think? Would love to know,



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We visited mid July 2022