New Soho Space Celebrates Black Women’s Art

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Artists Sahara Longe, Cece Phillips, Emma Prempeh, Miranda Forrester and curator Jade Foster at the opening of At Peace (David Parry)

For anyone looking to view, support, or collect art beyond the traditionally white male canon, London’s newest art hotspot, the Gillian Jason Gallery, which has just opened in the heart of Soho, launched a groundbreaking exhibition exclusively featuring the art of black women.

At Peace is curated by Jade Foster, a British curator and artist from Jamaican and the legacy of Saint Lucia. The exhibition features the work of five prominent black female artists who challenge and overturn the way black bodies are represented in art. The selected paintings are described as “unbound by prejudice; to subvert and rethink the way women and black figures have been viewed by classical naturalist and Western modernist traditions within painting ”.

In a radical recovery of that narrative, Miranda Forrester, Sahara Longe, Cece Philips, Alanis Forde, and Emma Prempeh created bold works infused with agency and freed from traditional stereotypes.

While it could be argued that this is a work of art as a whole, each piece in the exhibition stands on its own – literally in the case of The Date of Sahara Longe. Nearly two meters high, the imposing canvas dominates the first room of the gallery. He embodies the clear intention of all the works here: to represent women and non-binary people in a way that defiantly rejects the male gaze.

Sahara Longe, The Date (David Parry)

Sahara Longe, The Date (David Parry)

“I presented paintings that describe the relationships that were currently attached to me,” says Prempeh, a London-based artist with Ghanaian and Vincentian heritage. “[My painting] They represent a snapshot of a non-binary partnership in the present, describing the importance of what alliance, solidarity, and freedom for black queer, transgender, and intersex people mean to me.

The two works by Prempeh on display, Them and De Speeltuin, are a sort of dichotomy; the first a contagious representation of black joy, the second a story of fragmentation, broken relationships and distance. The two feel deeply intimate, exploring the relationship between public and private space, as evidenced by De Speeltuin’s background, influenced by brick and industrial materials and patterns in Caribbean interiors.

Emma Prempeh with her painting Them (David Parry)

Emma Prempeh with her painting Them (David Parry)

Using a variety of media, each artist makes a unique contribution to the ensemble. Among the most striking works on display is Destination Wedding by Barbadian artist Forde. Similar to the work of Caribbean contemporaries like Ebony Patterson, the painting tells a story of blissful solitude on the islands where there are no longer wedding and vacation packages hosted in ancient plantations. The landscape is now rich and capable of flourishing and flourishing.

The themes Forde addresses are even more relevant in the context of Barbados’ severing of ties with the British monarchy after 396 years to become a republic. Painted shortly before the event, there is a moving sense in his work of something presented as a speculative fictional utopia gradually approaching reality.

Alanis Forde, Destination Wedding (David Parry)

Alanis Forde, Destination Wedding (David Parry)

Phillips’ triptych of figures in pink suits also immediately catches the eye. The London-based self-taught artist’s current work ‘explores the relationship between women and power, thinking about how and how expressions of influence have historically been represented through cultural signifiers and body language. can be reimagined, ”she tells me.

In particular, the second in the trilogy, Walking Loud, looks like a daring homage to the oft-repeated exhortation to “take up space”; learn aloud and proudly to reclaim your rightful place in the world.

“When we opened At Peace, we wanted to focus on the theme of the exhibition; finding a space where artists, collectors and art lovers would feel welcome to learn, unlearn and perhaps re-evaluate abandoned ideas, ”says Elli Jason Foster, director of the director gallery.

Cece Phillips at Gillian Jason Gallery (David Parry)

Cece Phillips at Gillian Jason Gallery (David Parry)

“We are happy to have welcomed so many Londoners to the exhibition over the past ten days. Despite fears around Covid, people have stepped out of their relative comfort zone to come and view the exhibition safely in the gallery.”

And the show definitely hit its mark, with a lot of positive feedback from visitors, “not only limited to the individual artwork, but also how the narrative as curated by Jade Foster has its themes in it. ‘history of the world, our human social history and its relevance to the UK today,’ she adds.

At Peace is a powerful celebration of black talent and a reminder of why dedicated spaces for the presentation of black art are sorely needed. For anyone looking for new avenues to explore art, the Gillian Jason Gallery is an exciting new addition to London’s cultural scene.

Gillian Jason Gallery, until January 30. Book tickets here

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