IOn the corner of the New Art Exchange in Nottingham, I play a cassette tape and listen to multidisciplinary artists We have given him pain. She tells me that her feet are wet and she’s lost and about self-determination. But it is his proclamation about the union that strikes me: “the self can be a community,” he explains. In a world where the individual is valued, linking the concept of identity to external forces seems radical and risky. But this is exactly what Tied – a group show of seven female artists with ties to Africa and its diasporas – asks us to give it a try.
At a basic level, we are all aware of the ways that others have shaped us: the way we sing like our parents or vote like our friends. Laced increases it a bit, discovering links to history and geography, extending connections throughout the gallery like the delicately woven fabric that gives the exhibition its name. My green sweater begins to disappear into the green walls, which blends in with Zohra Opoku’s lush foliage photography. Beneath the branches is a darkened female figure (I catch a glimpse of her eyes, she looks back at me) and her immersion in the landscape questions my own relationship with the natural world.
The work of the seven artists responds to a poetic text formulated by the curator Loren Hansi Gordon to weave a wide selection of ideas. Laced is about race (“how we dress our hair”), Nottingham (“the history of this place”), freedom (“the art of being free”), the heart (“love is like love”) and fundamentally how we are able to “find ourselves in the other”. This plethora of concepts is articulated through thick swirls of paint, conversational dialogue, bold photography, delicate stitching, and mesmerizing animations from artists with connections around the world.
Rather than creating inconsistencies, the variety of themes yields endless connection points. It is the personal in the works that attracts us. Buhlungu’s walk recordings include deep reflections, site observations, burps, and songs to generate a meandering monologue that reflects the spontaneous way all minds travel. Wura-Natasha Ogunji’s exquisite stitched human figures depict emotions words cannot reach, while Michaela Yearwood-Dan’s cacophony of thick acrylic films, scrapes, and taps with hidden phrases like “when will I finally find out what it is to be free? ” it is joyful and volatile like the contradiction of being alive.
Connection also means taking responsibility. Tabita Rezaire’s panoramic video explores how the Internet continues to perpetuate oppressive hierarchies. From the physical infrastructure, whose routes mimic those of slave traders, to the way Google’s algorithm suggestions include “why Africa is poor” and “why Africans don’t use deodorant,” Rezaire condenses the story to illustrate how interconnectivity can be abusive and how our past shapes our present. “West Needs New Spaces to Conquer” stretches across the screen, challenging us to acknowledge the evils of previous generations and how our quest to defend “power at all costs” is far from over.
A quirk of the Covid rescheduling means that upstairs another seven artists tackle the issue of black British masculinities on Cut & Mix. Dialogues naturally open between the two exhibits, and the similarities between Amartey Golding’s flower-obscured black men and the women hidden in the Opoku fauna narrate how overly restrictive gender identities have negative implications on both sides of the coin. . The need for women to appear in a certain way also puts men in a corner.
For black men, this corner is smaller than ever, as many of Cut & Mix’s work reveals. Heavyweight Champ by Antonio Roberts features video games recoded with black fighting game characters. Balrog from Street Fighter II races through a Mario game, while Adam Hunter from Streets of Rage appears in Donkey Kong. Later, Beverley Bennett puts the words of the musics in the mouths of male gospel singers, Marlene Smith wears her late father’s clothes, and Michael Forbes juxtaposes multi-colored wigs and diamond-studded hats with stern facial expressions. Reframing not only exposes the narrow and restrictive path that black men must often walk, but it also offers an alternative where vulnerability, sensitivity, and quirkiness have a place.
At the back of the gallery is a dimly lit orange room. Bennett’s gospel singers and the scent of a scented diffuser fill the air as I look at a photographic portrait of Rotimi Fani-Kayode. Two black men are standing nearby, facing the camera; the first, wrapped in a red robe, looks up at the sky, while the second caresses his shoulder with his nose. The certainty and stillness of the first man eases the worries of the second, offering him a place of refuge and rest. The senses are illuminated in the warm and closed space, it is as if I had come across a chapel at the end of a long journey. With a head full of ideas, I too wish to rest on this man’s shoulder. The connection is not easy, but it is all we have.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism