October 23, 2020, by Matt Davies
One Heritage and Black History Month by Naomi Akintola
When the University of Nottingham’s One Heritage group approached DTH to borrow some equipment for an art exhibition we were keen to help out and find out more so we sent new DTH student volunteer Naomi Akintola along as our roving reporter! Naomi is a third year Archaeology and Classical Civilisations student and will be working on our Archaeology Museum Photogrammetry (3D capture) project this year -watch this space for more details! Enjoy her full report and photographs below.
As part of Black History Month, between the 7th and 9th of October, the University of Nottingham’s One Heritage society transformed The Studio in the University’s Portland building into a unique exhibition of art by students from both the University of Nottingham and Trent University. Following the the Black Lives Matter protests, the significance of Black History Month this year holds an amplified meaning offering us the opportunity to reflect and bring together a divided community. The exhibition paid homage to black artists and their creations in Nottingham.
Upon arrival, I instantly felt a sense of familiarity despite being previously unaware of the artists’ work. The fluidity of the art on show brought back memories of life before the Covid pandemic and its absence of art events, when new and established artists inspired creativity. Displaying their work in a socially distanced exhibition, the artists’ striking colours and styles felt like they brought us together in a world where it is currently safer to be apart.
The beauty and poetry of each piece reflected the artists’ messages. One striking piece by Shalom Matsekeza embodies our society’s need to take a more active approach towards inclusion. Politically inspired, Matsekeza’s digital painting reveals how the LGBTQ+ community strives for social equality. Unfortunately, subdivisions within this particular group cannot be overlooked as black transgender women often face a harsher level of stigma and discrimination than their caucasian counterparts. Indeed a national transgender discrimination survey (Grant, et al, 2011) reports that transgender people of colour experience unemployment at a rate four times higher than that of the national rate whereas their caucasian counterparts suffer unemployment at twice the rate of the general population. Regardless of colour, the reality that the trans community faces a higher unemployment rate at all illustrates how we can and should do more to support them. The symbolism of inclusion within Matsekeza’s piece is doubtless, it was inspired by trans-woman Dominique Jackson, who is re-imagined as an allusion to Disney’s Little Mermaid character, Ursula. This piece redefines the stigma surrounding the transgender community, positively representing and showcasing her beauty and versatility instead.
The exhibition also demonstrates the versatility of the artists themselves, the majority of whom did not study art as a degree. The combination shown here of academic studies and passion for art illustrates the freedoms that black British artists enjoy today; the liberty and power that the Civil Rights Movement fought for. The diverse skills of the artists are clear for all to see, and each piece is unique to the individual who made them. For instance, an astral work named ‘Mother Moses’ by Jeffrey Nwokike conveys the higher power given to a woman who indirectly saved a whole civilisation (Exodus 2:1-10). The biblical mother, Jochebed, birthed the prophet Moses, and selflessly saved his life with her own sacrifice. Moses would grow up to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Without the mother’s love and sacrifice, the Israelites would have never been free. In honour of Black History Month, Nwokike casts a light on this often overlooked aspect of Moses’ story by juxtaposing it with notable female figures of the Civil Rights Movement such as Rosa Parks who, like Jochebed, risked all for the good of others.
The exhibition also touched on a message of self-acceptance. Artist Adagio Nkwocha depicted a fascinating insight into her personal experience of self-identity, both sides of her work representing the complexity of what it is to be human. It is an amalgamation of the balance between highs and lows as well as the acceptance of being black British and Nigerian. Her artwork symbolises how these can be very different and unique experiences for each person.
The notion of embracing one’s culture, as well as self-identity, is also apparent in Sela Agbemabiese’s work. She combines African American pop culture figures, with traditional Ghanain patterns which stretch over Kente and Adinkra symbols. The combinations of the two, are a celebration of the diversity of Black culture.
Overall, a wide range of topics were covered in the exhibition, both subtly and overtly. For example, the representation of biblical figures combined with twentieth-century feminist qualities depicted in Nwokike’s work provided an extraordinary new perspective on overlooked black stories. Moreover, this exhibition featured works of inclusive activism, as shown by Dominique Jackson’s transformation in Matsekeza’s work. Breaking down social expectations, the collection demonstrated the flexibility between culture and nationality. It redefined and embraced the components which make up the definition of ‘being black.’