Staying Power: Black Culture And History On Show At The V&A

By Silvia Baretta Last edited 63 months ago
Staying Power: Black Culture And History On Show At The V&A ★★★★☆ 4
Al Vandenberg, 'High Street Kensington' from the series 'On a Good Day'.
Al Vandenberg, 'High Street Kensington' from the series 'On a Good Day'.

Self-Portrait in Mirror; Photograph, 'Self-Portrait in Mirror', Armet Francis, gelatin silver print, 1964
Armet Francis
Gelatin silver print
Armet Francis, ‘Self-Portrait in Mirror’, London, 1964.

Untitled, HG 423-04, 2004; A black and white photograph of an African woman seen from the back wearing an elaborate headtie, by J. D. 'Okhai Ojeikere, from the series 'Headties.'
J.D. Okhai Ojeikere (1930-)
J. D. 'Okhai Ojeikere, 'Untitled, HG 423-04', from the series Headties.
Neil Kenlock, ‘Untitled [Young woman seated on the floor at home in front of her television set]',

African Homeboy-Brixton, London, 1987; Portrait photograph of a young man standing by a wall wearing colourful African influenced clothes and dark sunglasses.
Fujifilm C-type colour print
Normski, 'African Homeboy - Brixton, London, 1987'.

Diary of a Victorian Dandy: 19.00 hours; Photograph by Yinka Shonibare, 'Diary of a Victorian Dandy: 19.00 hours' from the series Diary of a Victorian Dandy, C-print, 1998, printed 2012
Yinka Shonibare (1962-)
C-type print
Yinka Shonibare, 'Diary of a Victorian Dandy'.

Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆

The V&A Museum has teamed up with the Black Cultural Archives for a unique project which focuses on the cultural life of black people in London and the UK during the latter decades of the 20th century. The result is a double bill of exhibitions, one taking place at the museum in South Kensington and at the archives in Brixton. We visited the former, entitled Staying Power: Photographs of Black British Experience 1950s-1990s.

Featuring over 50 photographs recently acquired by the museum, this exhibition explores themes of identity, stereotypes and self-representation along with youth culture and street style. The artists exhibited come mostly from the Caribbean, with some also from Africa.

Concepts of multiculturalism and a sense of community emerge from the artworks, single portraits and group photos on display. The focus is squarely on black people and their lifestyles within a 'foreign' society. Some of London's boroughs are represented in the background of the photographs: we recognised Brixton, Hackney and the streets of South Kensington, which hosted a big Caribbean community after the Second World War.

Our favourite section is the Diary of a Victorian Dandy by contemporary artist Yinka Shionibare. This bold and controversial group of photographs challenges concepts of identity and society. Here, the stereotype of a middle-class wealthy man is replaced by an 'outsider' black counterpart — embodied by the artist himself. Similar issues are explored in the Untitled series by Maxine Walker, who photographs herself in different guises, playing with her own sense of self and identity.

Although this is a rather small exhibition, it features deep, high quality artworks, which will make you reflect on the impact of the black community in this country's history.

Staying Power is on at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL, until 24 May 2015 — entry is free. Staying Power parallel exhibition is taking place at the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton and is on until 30 June, entry is free.

For more art to see in London, see our top 10 openings for February or visit Londonist's Museum & Galleries and Art & Photography pages.

Last Updated 17 February 2015