Black Blossoms at The Royal Standard: If We’re Going To Heal, Let It Be Glorious

Brown girl in the art world I & II, 2017, Rene Matić. Courtesy of the artist

There’s music in the gallery at the Black Blossoms exhibition. It’s loud and fun, and there’s a group of women standing around the speaker, swaying their hips slightly as they talk. It’s a stark contrast to your usual private views, and in the context of the artworld, where black art is rarely seen let alone amplified, it’s refreshing and relieving to see an exhibition of black women’s art.

The first piece to encounter is Rene Matić’s ‘Brown girl in the art world I & II’. A short essay alongside a photograph, the piece shows the artist upside down in a hand stand, naked and defiant against the walls of an unreferenced gallery space. It’s heartfelt, yet innocent in its articulation. She writes “The more I make art, the more I fall in and out of love with everything”. Self-awareness and spatiality is noticeable in her work, and in the others that surround it in the gallery space.

A show like this could only have come about through an open call. If We’re Going To Heal manages to create an inclusive and welcoming environment against a collection of powerful art. The works reference pop culture alongside personal experience, referencing the intersection of racism and sexism that only black women face, and titling it with a Beyonce quote. This is a place of things that we half recognise, and as a result, it becomes a place where we try to empathise: it’s an antithesis to the art world that we have come to know and have tired of. It’s comforting and rejuvenating. By stepping away from the ‘white’ walls of the gallery space, the audience is pushed into the light – why aren’t black voices in the artworld amplified?

The delicate twists of metal in Nedine Luke’s ‘A Mother’s Love’ are enthralling. They create spaces for fingers and flesh, the silver no doubt following the palm-creases of an absent hand. It’s a piece that reflects the exhibition well, shedding light on those things that we’re unused to seeing. As a whole, the works are proud yet gentle – speaking not of a collective experience, but highlighting the ties that bind their female artists.

If We’re Going To Heal, Let It Be Glorious is like taking a sharp hit of reality. From the dark, proud eyes of the subject in J C Cowans’ ‘Common Thread’, to the bold, dancing pencil strokes of ‘Gyaldem’ by Rahana Dariah, the work seems to be deeply personal. This is a goading statement to the art world: ‘look what you could have, if you accepted us’ – and in a world where the personal is regarded as political, and politics is very much personal, it’s also a rousing expression of intent.

If We’re Going To Heal, Let It Be Glorious continues at The Royal Standard until 30 September.

Grace Edwards is a writer and researcher based in the North West with an interest in community arts and place making.

Published 27.09.2017 by Sinead Nunes in Reviews

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