Staying Power: Photographs of Black British Experience 1950s-1990s
16 February – 24 May 2015
High Street Kensington, 1976, © Al Vandenberg
This spring the V&A will present a display of over 50
recently acquired photographs that explore the
experiences of black people in Britain in the latter half of
the 20th century, enhanced by excerpts from oral
histories gathered by Black Cultural Archives.
Over the last seven years the V&A has been working with
Black Cultural Archives to acquire photographs either by black photographers or which document the lives of black people in Britain, a previously
under-represented area in the V&A’s photographs collection. Funded by the Heritage Lottery
Fund (HLF), the Museum has been able to collect 118 works by 17 artists ranging from Yinka
Shonibare’s large-scale series Diary of a Victorian Dandy (1998), to studies of elaborate
headties worn by Nigerian women, by J.D. Okhai Ojeikere, to black and white street
photography of 1970s London by Al Vandenberg.
Staying Power will showcase a variety of photographic responses to black British experience.
On display will be intimate portrayals of British-Caribbean life in London in the 1960s-70s by
Neil Kenlock, Armet Francis, Dennis Morris and Charlie Phillips. Music, style and fashion are
documented in Raphael Albert’s depictions of the black beauty pageants he organised from
the 1960s to the 1980s to help celebrate the growing black community in Britain and Norman
‘Normski’ Anderson’s colourful depictions of vibrant youth culture of the 1980s and 90s.
The display also features more conceptual explorations of race and identity. Yinka Shonibare’s
series, Diary of a Victorian Dandy, depicts the artist playing the role of a dandy. The work
demonstrates Shonibare’s identification with the dandy as an outsider or foreigner who uses
his flamboyance, wit and style to penetrate the highest levels of society, which would
otherwise be closed to him. Maxine Walker also draws attention to racial stereotypes by
photographing herself in a variety of guises. In her Untitled series (1995) she presents herself
with different skin tones and hairstyles as though they were instantaneous transformations
made in a photo booth.
The V&A’s Photographs Collection - The V&A was the first museum to collect and exhibit photography as an art form. It now holds
the UK's national collection of art photography, which is one of the largest and most
important in the world. The V&A has over 500,000 photographs in its collections, ranging
from works created in 1839, when the medium was first invented, to the present.
Black Cultural Archives - Founded in 1981, Black Cultural Archives’ mission is to collect, preserve and celebrate the
heritage and history of Black people in Britain. They opened the UK’s first dedicated Black
heritage centre in Brixton, London in July 2014, enabling greater access to the archive
collection and providing dedicated learning spaces and an exciting programme of exhibitions
and events that explore British history from a unique perspective. The archive collection offers
insight into the history of people of African and Caribbean descent in Britain and includes
personal papers, organisational records, rare books, ephemera, photographs, and a small
collection of objects.