Black Cultural Archives in Brixton
By damekor, Sep 4 2014 05:45PM
Published on Off ThHoo digital Magazine 12th August 2014
Black Women in the spotlight in the first exhibition - Re-Imagine Black Women in Britain at the new home of Black Cultural Archive.
Things come in threes and this is my third blog on happenings in Brixton...this is a biggie. A success story you need to know about. And with every success story there’s always a struggle, a fight along the way. And with a vision so big comes a budget so big...we're talking £7 million. The roots of Black Cultural Archives (BAC) dates back to 1981, a group of people got together led by Len Garrison, with an idea, a dream, a shared purpose to create an archive to document and celebrate the history of Black people in Britain and therefore be a resource of education for all. They started out in a shop front, just down the road from their current home in Windrush Square, fought every step of the way and finally secured big helping hands from various donors including Heritage Lottery Fund, Lambeth Council, and Esmee Fairbairn. 33 years later and the new home of BCA is in a grade II listed building with modern extensions, which includes the exhibition space, the archive library (which I’ve heard it also includes the Black plays archives), there’s a café, shop and an open courtyard where I sat with my friend after we’d visited the exhibition supping an apple juice in the sun. This is an important place. It’s historic. We’ve never had anything like this before, on such a large scale and accessible to all. When I arrived at BCA I was greeted by a well manned reception and handed an audio device, with which you can hear snippets of interviews and further accompanying information to the exhibits. We went on a Tuesday afternoon and there was certainly a healthy flow of punters coming and going, black, white, men, women, younger and older, you name it, this exhibition is attracting us all.
Re-Imagine: Black women in Britain. This exhibition is focused on strong, powerful, successful, influential, inspiring, challenging women who’ve made a mark, made a stand, made a difference, and made history.
With the way the world is today I feel I’m being constantly flooded and bombarded with a lot of meaningless information, latest this, latest that, must see, must have, must know, must go, everything but everything gets it’s fifteen seconds of fame and soon forgotten come the sixteenth. Even with those that achieved great fame, their achievements can be forgotten, thrown away, records lost, discarded. If it ain’t happening, and it ain’t happening now, where’s it’s place in society. It’s great to just stop for a minute, breathe, take in and reflect, contemplate, investigate and gain a little more understanding than you had before. You can certainly do that here. There is a quote on a wall in the exhibition;
"I realised I had to know who I was otherwise somebody was going to tell me" Linda Bellos.
I love this quote, it’s all bound up in personal responsibility, accountability, labels, identity. Now obviously Linda Bellos, who has been honored with an OBE is a revelatory feminist, not only is she mixed-race, she’s also a lesbian, and an ex-politician. She was the second black woman to become a leader of a British local authority, and she’s talking about big things. Its inspiring. Know yourself and get on with being you. The knock on effect of knowing who you are, where we’ve come from, acknowledging the legacies and ancestry before us, has a big bearing on who we can be, relationships we have, where we are going and how we can make the change we want to. There’s so much to hold onto and remember. And, be thankful for.
I don’t want to ruin it for anyone, so I’m not going to mention all the women in the exhibition, it’s for you to discover when you go. But what I will say is theres women you have heard of and women you just wouldn’t have. You are bound to have heard of Mary Seacole, the nurse who looked after British soldiers during the Crimean war. I was amazed to see on display here an actual photograph of Mary Seacole, in a book that was found in a school.
There’s also a great image from the university of Reading, by Aaron Watson, entitled Hail Sister, which is a three part image starting with the skull of an Ivory Bangle Lady of African decent who lived in York during the fourth century, and the next two images are a reconstruction of her face suggesting what she may have looked like, which in fact is a very modern image of a woman’s face you could see walking around Brixton today. Upon further investigation I have found that new research was published in the journal, Antiquity proving that the population of York even in the Roman times was more culturally diverse than we’d been led to believe. Also by analyzing her skeleton and the objects that were buried with her in her grave, such as elephant ivory bracelets and earrings, the Ivory Bangle Lady is thought to have been part of the high social circles, so not everyone of North African decent at that time would have been slaves. A skull is such a powerful image, ever reminding us that we are all equal, behind it all, all the same.
The staff were certainly friendly, informative, and patient with me, lets just say I’m an inquisitive type, and lucky for me, I met Tracey who works at BCA and runs workshops there, is a mother of four and also a student at School of Oriental and African studies, she was very engaging and was only too happy to answer my questions.
The exhibition for me was motivating, inspiring, educational and enriching. Thank you Black Cultural Archives. I wish you continued success. I’ll be back to visit again, maybe read a play or two.
Re-Imagine runs till 30th November. Black Cultural Archives, 1 Windrush Square, Brixton, SW2 1EF. Opens 10:00 – 18:00 ~ bcaheritage.org.uk