Sometimes the events in your city or town make you feel like you’ve been on an adventure even if you’ve barely left your postcode. My autumn was full of art from around the world and I wanted to share.
There are telltale signs that Autumn is rounding the corner in London. The sun sleeps in until 7:35am, and the trees do lose their leaves but not in the same fiery reds and oranges as in New York. “Remember, remember the 5th of November” is a line from an English poem, but you might be familiar with it because of V for Vendetta, a movie hinting at the historical plot to blow up Parliament. Guy Fawkes night on Nov 5th is celebrated with numerous firework displays all around the city…think 4th of July.
Potentially less familiar to an American audience is that October is Black History Month in the UK. You’ll see that many of the art exhibitions below reflect the incredible talent showcased in London.
A side note before moving on to the art: Many of the classrooms I’ve visited have bulletin boards with Beyonce, Obama, Mandela, MLK, Jr and Malcolm X (I even saw one with Cardi B this year?!). All are honoring key figures in …well, not UK history. I’ve asked a few teachers about the historical figures in the UK whom pupils should celebrate, and I’ve been told that the figures posted are reasonable since they relate to the fact that kids in London study the US Civil Rights movement, and that the figures don’t need to be limited to UK history. On the contrary, however, I’ve also finished reading ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’ this fall, and the author, Reni Eddo-Lodge, interviewed Linda Bellows whose leadership founded Black History Month in 1987. Bellows specifically states ‘I thought Black History Month was a great idea. What I wasn’t going to do was make it like the American one, because we have a different history….” She stated that the current-day UK Black History Month seemed more about culture, fashion and hair, but she wished it would actually ‘celebrate the contribution that black people had made in the United Kingdom.’ It seems that message is still a work in progress in many of the schools I’ve worked with, and I look forward to passing this sentiment on.
But I digress…Let’s celebrate the art that London offered this fall! Organized by category for your reading pleasure, or the time limit that you have for tea-break reading!
Chasing Trane is a documentary about the talented life of John Coltrane. It was a bonus that the Doc & Roll Film Festival was screening this piece at the Royal Opera House! Neither Corey and I had been to the Royal Opera House but we’re now determined to go back to see live music at this royal rotunda. See Chasing Trane if it comes to your neighborhood.
I took myself out for an agile-working afternoon. I enjoyed a working lunch at Machi-ya where I’d suggest the appetizers more than the noodle plate lunch. I will go back to try more of the menu when I have more email admin to complete. Since I worked through lunch, I took some time back to see Loving Vincent (review below). I finished my email admin and participant calls over a Negroni at the top of the National Portrait Gallery. This life!
Loving Vincent is stunning is because it is the first fully painted feature film. Over 100 artists painted every scene in Van Gogh’s impressionist style, and the film develops a narrative around his real paintings that is seamless. The film’s website does a great job of showing how Van Gogh’s paintings were transformed into characters and settings in the movie. My only challenge with this film is that it is set in France –yet none of the actors speak in French or speak with French-English accents. If the movie was done with live actors, I doubt they could get away with this. But see it if it comes to theaters near you anyways!
Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami was a film that I was very excited to see, but one that did not do justice for its muse. There didn’t seem to be a strong narrative that I could follow, and some of the footage was drawn out without clear purpose. Grace Jones doing her make up was a highlight, however, I’m bummed that I wouldn’t recommend seeing it– at all. The bonus was that the film was screened at the Institute of Contemporary Arts near Buckingham Palace. This place was full of good energy so I know I’ll be back to see more exhibitions and films soon as the seasons change.
Play Your Gender was also featured in the Doc&Roll film festival. A film that focused on women in the music industry fell so flat for me. I had such high expectations! I wouldn’t recommend seeing it as there are numerous interviews with people saying the same basic thing ‘The music industry is heavily male and it can stink being a woman in such a male-dominated space”. I felt that was obvious. What do we do about it? Who is making a difference? What can women in all genres of music do going forward? What is the role that men play and how can they be better? Corey and I walked away without any depth or insight into these questions. We were also sad at how few women of color played a role in this film when so many dynamic women of color make musical history every day 😦
They Will Have to Kill Us First is an intense title, I know. The title of the film is a quote from one of the musicians who fought through the music ban in Northern Mali. In 2012, Islamic extremists banned music, radio, and live shows, and this film follows four artists who stood their ground during such turbulent times. One of the bands has even made it out to London to spread their messages of hope through live shows. Listen to this film closely.
For this last one, I thought I was seeing a full length film, but it was actually set up on a small TV on the 4th floor foyer at the Southbank Centre. Shoutout to Tracy who suggested the film! Mother Tongues is a short film featuring four British poets of color and their mothers. The mothers recited their daughters’ poems in their own ‘mother tongue’ (Ga, Shona, and Yoruba) and then the audience listens to the dialogue between the poets and the women who raised them. My favorite part of these intimate interviews was hearing proverbial advice like “Grow your nails so you can scratch yourself” …meaning save your money so you have something for yourself.
I was surprised to realize that the woman who created and produced this piece, Victoria Adukwei Bulley, is someone I’d seen sing and recite her poetry at an event called Jazz Verse Jukebox at Hoxton Hall. It made this sprawling city feel just a bit smaller since it felt like running into someone I knew while on the tube.
Soul of A Nation didn’t disappoint! Art born from the civil rights movement is powerful on its own, and when brought together with the stories of the brilliant and thought-provoking artists who continued through the 70s and 80s, it was a journey. We experienced their personal politics, identity, and ultimately, their historical contributions in this showcase.
After such a powerful show, we checked out the Tate rooftop! Then, Corey and I stayed for dinner and a show. The closing party for Soul of A Nation was hosted by the Hiphop Karaoke crew, and the beers on tap were from Brooklyn Brewery. Pumpkin Ale, veggie burgers and very brave souls tackling the mic? Bravo!
Boom for Real is still showing at the Barbican so see it if you are in Londontown before January 28th! I enjoyed the chronological organization of the show, illustrating howJean-Michel Basquiat’s work transitioned from the 1960s to the late 1980s. Though his life was short, he leaves a lasting impression. And because his canvas was NYC, it brought me back down memory lane. Bonus: We saw the show with Tracy and Andrae– and you know what? They love gift shops too!
Honestly, I read about this exhibit in an in-flight magazine! But after visiting Hassan Hajjaj’s work at the Somerset House, I will make scouring articles before take-off a tradition. Hajjaj’s work is vibrant, fun and it reminds you to think about the layers that make up our everyday lives. To help explain the exhibit, I took a video (see below). There are numerous screens set up as framed pictures, but you realize the frames are actually videos. Each artist plays a solo. While they perform their solo, he’s taped the other artists turning to the left or right in their frame so it looks as if they are in one long concert line.
Directly out the back door from the Hajjaj exhibit, is the river Thames. We caught this additional piece of art and wanted to give a shoutout for this one.
Corey and I took The Grays to explore Shoreditch one autumnal afternoon. Our main goal was to show them the graffiti art all along Brick Lane, but Zanele Muholi’s exhibit caught our eye so we took a pitstop. In the photos of the dark lioness (herself), she was decorated with daily objects like steel wool or cords. If not decked out in a mane, she was in a natural setting like a forest or coastline. Every picture was of her staring directly at the camera or with Muholi purposefully positioned in a way where you could not deny giving her attention.
The Barbershop Chronicles. I hope Inua Ellams and the production get to travel with this piece!!! Go see it if it comes to a theater/theatre near you!!! (more exclamation points!) This play allows you to be a fly on the wall in barber shops in six cities…five of them on the African continent, and one in the UK. The energy is incredible, and you’ll be shocked you’ve been rapt for almost two hours without a break. Sam, Abs, Corey and I are still talking about the stories a week later! Strong performance, yall!
Food and drink can be art, right? You have to read the captions for this section.
An event that I hoped to attend, but missed: Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book talk at the Tate. I was there 45 minutes early with book in hand, and waited in a line snaking through the entire pavilion. An extra 15 minutes after the man stood on the table to announce there was no more room in the theater, people were still crowding towards the door. Go ahead, Reni!
Grafitti art in East London
Other events this Fall…
Thanks for taking the time to reflect on these escapades. Cheers to the art, the artists, and …sheepishly, the audience.