Titled Black Chronicles II, the exhibition is the first public showing of Autograph ABP’s ‘The Missing Chapter’, a project that explores the marginalised histories of black and minority groups throughout Britain in 19th and 20th century Britain through an extensive collection of photographs and carte-de-visites that the project has been archiving since 1988.
The exhibition is dedicated to the memory of – and driven in part by – renowned Jamaican cultural theorist Stuart Hall (1932-2014), whose extensive research in the fields of race, gender, and representation have been hugely influential in changing the way we approach notions of human identity and the narratives that entail therefrom.
Through the exhibition’s collections of portraits, keepsakes and cabinet cards, ‘The Missing Chapter’ redresses our understanding of British and Western history by exposing a part of our society that is so often erased or forgotten, whether intentional or otherwise.
For the first time we are given glimpses of groups such as the thirty-strong African Choir that toured Britain during the early 1890s and the Ethiopian Prince Alamayou, who was brought to the UK after his father was murdered by British troops invading Abyssinia – he would eventually die of pleurisy at a tragically young age.
The exhibition responds to questions of black identity in Britain by raising the significance of causality. To paraphrase the speech by Stuart Hall that can be heard during the exhibition, these photographs directly challenge dismissive attitudes that say, ‘You’ve been in our country for 400 years; what do you mean, “Where do I come from?”’
The persistent absence of black bodies and black faces in British history is counterbalanced by this presentation of an oft-concealed truth, reminding us of the deep mark that colonialism, imperialism and slavery has left on all Western narratives. Even in modern history lessons we are never reminded of the many minorities that fought alongside British, Irish, Welsh and Scottish faces in the First and Second World Wars, yet in this exhibition we are given a poignant reminder of the tapestry of black history that is now intrinsic to our nation’s identity – we see lion tamers, soldiers, adopted children, even priests, all so often erased as the arrow of time pushes forward.
There’s not much else for me to say on the subject – I can only recommend attending the exhibition, viewing the photographs for yourself and reading the notes that accompany each image. As a direct response to the erasure of black bodies from Western discourse, few statements feel as poignant as the faces that stare back at you in this exhibition. Frankly, Stuart Hall puts it best when he simply states; ‘They are here because you were there.’
Black Chronicles II is on display at Rivington Place in Shoreditch from now until the 29th of November. Entry is FREE and more details can be found at the Autograph-ABP website. History is a selective and subjective process like any other and this exhibition is a valuable reminder of the way we shape the world that our future generations eventually look back upon. Have a nice weekend.