Black Is The New Black: National Portrait Gallery
Black is The New Black. I was sold on the title of this exhibition alone. The popular influence of black culture on mainstream entertainment and consumables - whether it be music, fashion, beauty or food - is on the rise and it ain’t stopping, frustrating as it may be at times! When I saw the title of this exhibition, I felt like there was a little tongue in cheek nod to this.
Anyway. Let’s crack on.
Black Is The New Black is on show at the National Portrait Gallery. The exhibition features 32 black British personalities who have shaped their field over the past few decades. This power list of black British greatness includes literary queen Malorie Blackman, OBE and sporting legends such as Denise Lewis, OBE. John Sentamu sits boldly as Britain’s first black Archbishop whist the look of determination in Laura Mvula’s eyes tells us there is much more magic to come. And of course, news reader come investigative reporter and honorary Grand Father to us all, Sir Trevor Mcdonald sits proudly pensive amongst them all.
There were names and faces I didn’t recognise. Such as Shevelle Dynott, the first black child to join the Royal Ballet school in 1992 and who now encourages young boys to get into dance. There was also Jamaican born Bill Morris who came to the UK (settling in Birmingham, where my family are!) and became the first black person to lead a Trade Union in Britain. Morris has received a knighthood, sat in the House of Lords - with the title of Lord Bill Morris of Handsworth - and served on the Parliamentary Joint Human Rights Committee.
Each portrait was taken during the filming of the BBC documentary which goes by the same name. In it, these individuals talk about what it means to them to be Black and British, and how their experiences have evolved over the years. Unfortunately I didn’t catch the series and in true catch-up TV fashion, it’s no longer available on iPlayer, but you can watch a few snippets here.
When you visit you can download the app and listen to clips from the show when you hover over each portrait, which is a nice feature. I didn’t do this, cause sometimes it’s nice to ditch the digital and just enjoy what you’re looking at. Plus, there are laminated sheets which give a bio on each of the sitters.
This exhibition is absolutely worth a visit. You can see some of the portraits online, but it’s only when you stand in front of them that you feel the varied energy which emanates from each shot, exquisitely taken by Simon Frederick.
Exhibition runs at the National Portrait Gallery until 27th January.