by Michele Washington
Need of a diverse cultural surge in London? Rivington Place is a must see. Located in the Shoreditch section of East London, this exhilarating cultural center is one of the first newly built gallery artist spaces in London since the Hayward Gallery in 1968. It is a public two-story space housing two cultural organizations, Autograph ABP and INVIA (Institute of International Visual Arts). Autograph ABP curates photography exhibits with a focus on cultural identity and human rights while INVIA, provides much needed diverse global educational programs, and research in the visual arts.
Rivington Place is booming with a multitude of dynamic programming from film screenings, lectures, plus the Stuart Hall Library, named after Jamaica born intellect and one of Britain’s leading cultural theorist of the 20th century. The library is a repository of unique holding of cultural and visual materials from British artist of diverse backgrounds to contemporary art from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, along with its expansive collection of monographs, exhibitions catalogs, and various art periodicals. It includes work by such prominent visual artist as filmmaker Isaac Julien, Hew Locke and Chris Ofili whose collaged Madonna piece imbued with dung created a hoopla at the Brooklyn Museum in 1999.
Just as fascinating is the building’s sculptural form designed by Tanzanian born international architect, David Adajye in 2007, with offices in London, Berlin and New York City. Situated on the corner of Rivington Street and Rivington Place, the stoned structure seems much taller than its two stories. Adajye’s exterior facade was inspired by Sowei mask from Sierra Leone; the exterior structure is configured in symmetrical a lattice pattern of gray stone and glass allowing natural light to flow into the interior space. The Facades earthy gray tones are reflected in the lobby, and swanky cafe located in the back on the first floor that offers visitors tasty snacks.
On view in the galleries through 27 November, 2010 at Rivington Place are two magnificent photography exhibits” Ever Young: James Barnor and The Paris Albums 1900 W.E.B Du Bois both curated by Autograph ABP. James Barnor, a prominent Ghanaian photographer began his career in Jamestown, Accra in 1949. In the 1950s, Barnor operated Ever Young studio in Accra, and photographed for the top African lifestyle DRUM magazine.
James Barnor’s showing of a series of lively over-scaled black and white or color photographs depicts everyday life of men; women and children, marks him as a highly skilled portraiture photographer. Barnor knows how to capture the essence of his subjects by placing them in a variety of staged studio settings or campy street scenes. His images span the spectrum from hyper-stylized street fashion photography of a woman in a mini dress standing in sea of pigeons in Trafalgar Square in London. To a hilarious parody by a group of African comedians switching up vaudevilles derogatory blackface to mocking whiteface.
Untitled #8, 1972 captures a woman sporting an Afro hairstyle, as a perfect example of transferences borrowing from the 1960s Black Arts Movement in the United States. In another photograph a striking pose of preteen-girl leaning on an upright white wooden pedestal, creates a compelling visual narrative by the contrasting placement of a tattered ceramic mascot of a young white girl, originally designed for the family run umbrella shop James and Sons. Does this image imply the black girls achievement of power?
Barnor’s body of work offer the viewer a unique chance to visually experience the transatlantic transferences of everyday life through portraitures of Ghanaians after they migrated to London during the 1960s and 1970s.
The Paris Albums 1900: WEB DuBois featuring a unique historical collection of photography was previously shown at the 1900 Paris Exposition. DuBois showed his entire 363 photographs in the American Negro Exhibit section; this has only 200 photos of Negroe types from Georgia and they represent a visual construction of the New African American identity. They show an insight into the conditions of black culture at the end of the 19th century, just 35 years after the abolition of slavery.
None of the sitters are identified. Simply posed, the sitters are stylishly dressed, the women in high collared laced Victorian dresses, and the men in dapper suits with crisp white buttoned collared shirts and thin bow ties. Look for the sitters’ Eurocentric facial traits with characteristically thinner noses and lips, and wavy or naturally straight hair texture; and the sequential arrangement of the photos mimicking the repetitive flow of filmstrip projected on a wall. While the images are impressive, it is the quotations aligning the outer walls above the photos that provide a context of the cultural significance of the Negroes lifestyle and DuBois’ political theory.
Both shows run until 27 November 2010 at Rivington Place, located at Rivington Pace, in London.