Tag Archives: Culture

Review: ’42’ photography exhibition

42 is the name of an exhibition featuring photographs of women from Sierra Leone by British photographer Lee Karen Stow currently being exhibited at the Horniman Museum, South London.

The exhibition features women in a range of everyday settings but behind each image is a powerful and extraordinary story. 42 was originally exhibited in 2007, when Stow sought to document the brilliance and resilience of women from this previously war torn nation.

Having recovered from a civil war, the Ebola virus and now flooding, Sierra Leone (which means Lion Mountain in Portuguese), is unsurprisingly one of the poorest countries in the world but ironically one of the richest countries in terms of its natural resources. A decision to re-exhibit the collection, could not have come at a more opportune moment, serving as a reminder of the incredible strength and courage of Sierra Leonean people.

The exhibition’s title is a powerful and poignant statement because 42 was the average life expectancy of women in Sierra Leone when the photos were originally taken. Despite modest improvements, the average life expectancy is still extremely low, making it one of the worst in the world.

The exhibition features a broad spectrum of Sierra Leonian womanhood all within their ‘natural’ habitat: women boxers in action, fashion models striking a pose, agricultural workers tilling the land, faith filled women crying out to God, mothers and children in a variety of settings, nurses caring for those in need, brigadiers exuding power and disrupting traditionally masculine spheres, human rights activists -dignified, powerful and poised- the list is endless. It also managed to feature the First Lady of Sierra Leone – Sia Nyama Koroma.

At first glance, these seem like pretty ordinary images, but what Stow has done is to cleverly encapsulate an extraordinary breadth of women related issues, anchored by the accompanying blurbs. High infant mortality and maternal deaths rates, Female Genital Mutilation, girls education and gender equality, single parent households, women in work, women operating in traditionally male fields (I.e. boxing and the Army),faith as an anchor in everyday life, women pursuing their dreams despite the adversity – all of this and more is brought to life in 42. The photos also subtly promote some of the initiatives providing innovative solutions to these issues whilst also building solidarity and empowering the women.

Strength, perseverance, character, beauty and determination permeate these beautifully vivid and bold images of Sierra Leonean women. What gives this exhibition added poignancy is that a few of the subjects, are now deceased including one of the children photographed as a result of poor health care. Despite some of the grim subject matters covered, 42’s dominant narrative is hope.

The only criticism I have is of the location of 42 within the museum. Even though it is ideally placed on the upper floor (along the main balcony area of the museum) the area is dimly lit and in my view, limits the viewer’s experience. Similarly the exhibition is broken up by the museum’s permanent Romanian heritage collection which is slightly disorientating and disruptive.

42 is running until Sept 27th at the Hornimans Museum in Forest Hill, South London. The exhibition is free.

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Black Chronicles II: Review of new Black history exhibition

I work in one of the trendiest areas in London bursting full of cultural and creative delights- but rarely do I take advantage of this and explore what’s on offer. However, a few weeks ago I decided to visit Black Chronicles II, a new exhibition exploring the presence of Black and Asian people in early 19th and 20th century Britain, by Autograph ABP at Rivington Place, Shoreditch. I am a huge history buff with a keen interest in the Victorian era and the  Black Minority Ethnic (BME) experience so this exhibition was right up my street.

What I really liked about Black Chronicles II was the use of multimedia to depict the various unseen, marginalised histories of people of BME backgrounds in Victorian England.  This included a short film narrated by one of the curators, featuring some of the photographs on display. Similarly, the script from the film was also written high up on the walls creating a multidimensional feel and a sense of literal immersion.

It was particularly refreshing to see the breadth of the ‘Black’ presence (I know ‘Black’ is a potentially problematic term in this context but will use it anyway) extend to the South Asian community- giving the exhibition, yet again, another dimension. Below is one such example; a wonderful portrait of Major Mussa Bhai, of the Salvation Army taken in 1890:

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(C) Getty Images

The exhibition really brought forth the humanity of its subjects with each portrait being ‘allowed’ to tell its own story as far as possible. Often times Black history can be seen through a narrow, selective, colonial lens but I really felt as though I was beginning to witness the true diversity of the Black experience in Victorian England; in fact many of the photographs in the exhibition have been previously unseen by the public.

Another personal favourite were the individual portraits of members from the African Choir. Beautiful faces of all different hues, shapes and features- full of character, etched with unspoken experiences and accompanied with their full names. I can’t tell you how important it was for me to see the members awarded the dignity of having their own names written alongside their portraits- not nameless entities but marked by their own identities. Below is a portrait of one of the choir members, Eleanor Xiniwe.

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There has been a real resurgence in the popularity of Black Victoriana in recent months. Earlier this year the movie Belle was released (which is from a slightly earlier period) and a recent BBC documentary on Sally Bonetta Forbes,  described as the Black godchild of Queen Victoria reflect the growing interest for content that begins to uncover this rich body of history.

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At this point I should declare that I have a vested interest in these exhibitions because my great, great grandmother – Sally Bonetta Forbes often features in them. Beyond her royal connections, she was renowned for her musical talent, intelligence and beauty but unfortunately met an early death due to consumption at the age of 37. And as expected, a small photograph of her and her husband were included in the exhibition.

As an Afropolitan, born in the West but roots firmly in Africa, Black Chronicles II  filled me with a sense of pride that I was partaking in a shared history of those who have gone before me in this same tradition. The exhibition is by no means perfect; there are still some images that wreak of colonialism and make for uncomfortable viewing; this is unfortunately part of the Black British historic experience. However it comes close to to something that begins to reveal the truth of the varied Black presence in Victorian England.

Black Chronicles II is a must see for anyone interested in the diverse, hidden histories of BME communities in the UK.

The exhibition is free and runs until THIS Saturday 29th November.

For more information visit: autograph-abp.co.uk/exhibitions/black-chronicles-ii

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5 things I love about Nigerians (in honour of Nigerian ‘Independence’)

Nigeria is no stranger to negative publicity; from the corruption in Government, a reputation for fraud (419), the on-going oil crisis in the Delta Region, Boko Haram’s merciless slaying of Christians to the unresolved abduction of the 200+ Muslim girls, the list is endless. However I want to celebrate some of the fantastic things about the nation affectionately dubbed the ‘Sleeping Giant of West Africa’; so to celebrate 54 years of ‘independence’ I want to share with you five reasons why I am proud to be an Afropolitan of Nigerian descent.  (Disclaimer:  Nigeria is a culturally diverse nation with a rich heritage and numerous languages and ethnic groups so excuse the generalisation as I know not all Nigerians are the same! However this is based on my observation as a Nigerian from two tribal groups with Sierra Leonean heritage.)

  1. The Hustle- Entrepreneurialism is in our DNA. My younger brother who has never stepped foot on Nigerian soil, was selling the latest gadgets to his peers in school from day dot- it’s as if he possessed an innate ability to sniff out where the money was and find a way to go get it! From London to Lagos, we are passionate about business whether it is our main area of work or our side hustle. When I visited Nigeria almost every street corner was occupied by someone selling something and likewise in the UK every other Nigerian I know is setting up a new venture, often alongside their full time employment.  Industrious, ambitious and driven – Nigerians entrepreneurial spirit is a cut above the rest.

    The Hustle: Not just a programme on the BBC- its in Nigeria's DNA.

    The Hustle: Not just a programme on the BBC- its in Nigeria’s DNA.

  2. Our bold, fearless nature– Nigeria is known as the ‘Sleeping Giant of West Africa’ but that couldn’t be more far from the truth- I think it is well and truly awake! My dad always use to say ‘fear no man but your maker’ and this to me sums up Nigerians- we are not afraid to express ourselves and make our presence known wherever we are. I mean Nigerians are the only Black people I know that will go to places like Russia and Poland to live because they see potential to make money- often in the face of racism and hostility.

    Fearless and bold: How I see Nigerians- perhaps I am bit bias?

    Fearless and bold: How I see Nigerians- perhaps I am bit bias?

  3. Our vibrant faith– Nigeria is known for its vibrant Christian faith and  according to research has the highest population of Christians in Africa. Similarly,irrespective of whether we believe in Jesus or Allah or in the Yoruba deities – our faith is deep rooted and is an integral part of our lives. I will never forget when I visited Nigeria being awoken by the early morning prayers of an Imam at 5am or being impacted by the commitment and passion of Christians attending an epic church service which seemed to go on for the best part of the day!

    Nigerian christianity

    Our faith: Whatever it is we believe, our faith is a deeply important part of our daily lives.

  4. Our love of education and personal advancement– ‘Education, education, education’ is something that is of upmost importance to Nigerians. I will never forget when I told my dad that I was planning to take a ‘Gap Year’- (which was almost unheard of from a person of African descent 10 years ago); I just remember my dad- who is one of the most liberal, loving, open-minded people on the planet -repeatedly saying ‘so you are not going to University?’ He couldn’t take it in and I think it took him at least a month for him to speak to me without complete disdain. For Nigerians, as for many, education is seen as the key way to advancing yourself and your family.

    Gap Year? This is not in an African parents vocabulary! You better go and read your books my friend!

    Gap Year? This is not in an African parents vocabulary- you better go and find yourself at University!

  5. Our hospitality– If you have never been to a Nigerian party I urge you to take yourself to one! Whether its a wedding, a funeral, christening or an anniversary we know how to throw a good party. We love to be extravagant often leading to excessive amounts of food (Jollof rice, coleslaw fried fish, moi moi etc) and drinks (Supermalt and Nigerian Guinness are standard) being on offer. Not only that, depending on the party, you might even find yourself taking away some goodies like Tupperware, a commemorative calendar or salt (that’s another blog post altogether), We know how to have a good time and make almost anyone feel welcome and this isn’t just limited to big occasions!
Nigerian party time

Nigerian party time: We know how to have a good time- Go Grandma!!

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