This year’s FORUM takes the motif of freefall as a point of departure from which to explore black artistic practice as a strategy of innovation, resistance and liberation.
The concept of freefall has been established by a range of cultural makers as a way to interrogate ideas of blackness.
There are the numerous references to flight and falling as a marker of freedom, self-knowledge and transcendence in the novels of Toni Morrison. Artworks, such as Steve McQueen’s Carib’s Leap (2002) and Dancing on Air (1989) by Emma Amos are built upon allusions to the black body in motion and in peril. And there is Arthur Jafa’s observation that black people ‘create culture in freefall, but we also create kinship in freefall.’
In works such as these, and in Jafa’s formulation, the shared history of black people across the diaspora is marked by repeated efforts to deny them identity, agency and humanity. It is a history that stretches back to the slave trade and extends to modern times. Presently we are living in a period of overt hostility to ideas of multiculturalism and cultural hybridity, as evidenced by Brexit, Trump and the Windrush scandal.
Yet time and again, black people have met attempts at their negation with bold and exhilarating acts of artistic invention. Despite and even because of the pain of history, their creative expression retains an urgency and intensity that demands to be heard and seen. It is with this weight of historical and artistic reference in mind, that FORUM adopts freefall as its starting point.
Over the course of four afternoons FORUM will bring together artists, curators and scholars to address key questions and topics. Can we understand black visual culture, not by seeking to define a black aesthetic, but by reconceptualising blackness as aesthetics? What is driving artists to use archive moving image and vintage video footage as source material to explore ideas of the identity and history of the African diaspora? Why is portraiture emerging as a political medium by which to assert black visibility? And what do recent survey shows of African photography reveal about our ideas of ‘Africanness’?
Speakers and contributors include Larry Achiampong, Hurvin Anderson, David Bailey CBE, Appau Jnr Boakye-Yiadom, Sonia Boyce, Kimathi Donkor, Gaylene Gould, Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, Helen Jennings, Lebohang Kganye, Madison Moore, Renée Mussai, NT, Rashaad Newsome, Harold Offeh, Irvin Pascal, Professor Alessandra Raengo, Athi-Patra Ruga, Yinka Shonibare MBE (RA), sorryyoufeeluncomfortable and Marie-Ann Yemsi.