Courtesy of Hypemari

Four artists unpacking black identity that you should know

Common Thread is the exhibition carrying the spirit of carnival on in east London

Each year Notting Hill Carnival sees the streets of west London fill with revellers paying tribute to the culture of black Britain via steel band processions, thumping sound systems, and hours of twerking. However, the legacy of black people stretches far beyond one weekend so once you’re done dancing at Europe’s largest street party, the next week the festivities continue in the east of the city.

Common Thread is a collaborative exhibit jointly presented by the Crafts Council and Creative Debuts. Over the three days, more than 25 artists will channel the spirit of carnival by displaying works that help to tell the story of African and Caribbean history and identity. “All the artists were carefully selected by the Crafts Council and Creative Debuts. We wanted to showcase artists that drew out a range of stories and themes that reflected African-Caribbean culture,” explains Sara Khan, a representative for Crafts Council. “This includes historical issues, subcultures, and experiences of diaspora and LGBT communities in the UK and beyond.”

Based at The Black & White Building in Shoreditch, the three-day event will feature artists from a wide range of disciplines. For example, Yemi Awosile repurposes everyday materials to create fabrics that “evoke a sense of place”, through patterns that remind you of your particular identity such as those you might see on the traditional Aso ebi (uniform or particular family cloth) of a Nigerian woman. Elsewhere, the exhibit will screen a film that examines the craft of carnival. With 15,000 handmade costumes busy hands prepare 30 million sequins to attach to headpieces, wings, and bodysuits each year. There’s also the crafted concave drums for steel band processions. There’ll be photography, ceramics, embroidery, digital art, and chances to make your own creations so you can channel your inspiration from the art on show.

We spoke to the curators of the exhibit to spotlight four on-the-rise artists on display.

RAYVENN SHALEIGHA D’CLARK

Notting Hill is the most elaborate celebration of black bodies that the UK has to offer. There’s non-stop energetic labour of dancers, artists, DJs, musicians and processions that stretch for miles followed by a sea of black faces. Motivated by paradigm of feeling simultaneously invisible yet hyper-visible, London-born Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark will showcase her life-like sculptures and prosthetics. “I hope to open up dialogue about the irregular position of the black-artist who is abstracted and marginalised in the art world,” she told the Crafts Council, when asked about the themes in her work.

To illustrate this, her reflective ceramic “I Don’t See Colour” will be on show. Khan describes the work as a “voyage into the Economics of Sex, Race and Gender in the Digital Age”. She explains: “It’s a response to discourse surrounding the commodification of women; imposed upon them through consumerist trends and unrealistic capitalist idealisations and visualisation, this work is an exercise of turning the system inwards, on itself. To use the power, influence and materials of the industry to re-articulate and elevate the black female form.”

HYPEMARI

Hailing from London, Hypemari has made a name for himself with his street photography series that has seen him collaborate with BBC Arts, Sony, and led him to travel the world. His stand-out collection “Homecoming” which chronicles his first journey to Jamaica will be on display alongside images from last year’s carnival. In keeping with the festivities of dual-cultured UK-born (or bound) West Indians Hypemari wants to show the works that in his words are a “timeless, captivating and a deeply honest perspective on my roots and who I am as a person.”

Black and white shots of a woman tending to her front garden, intimate saturated portraits of a mother sat by the roadside with her daughter, a man balances his toddler son on his lap while he gets his haircut at a small barber’s shop. These everyday shots are simple, but as Khan notes, they’re also “a breathtakingly raw journey”. “(It illustrates his) perspective as a British Jamaican through his first time visiting Jamaica and how the experience influenced how he photographed his roots,” she says.

ALEX PETER IDOKO

Among the broad range of works on display will be hyperrealist designs by Nigerian artist Alexander Peter Idoko, who has a tremendous knack of bringing portraits to life by using a razor blade to chip away at burnt wood. “We discovered Alex through Twitter. There’s an incredible wave of support for young Nigerian artists through the #WeAreNigerianCreatives that celebrates the best young talents,” Creative Debuts co-founder Calum Hall tells Dazed. “He started portrait drawings during his secondary school days. He has been able to develop his artistic skills using different kinds of drawing mediums like pen, pastel, pencil, and wood burning using razor, sandpaper, and a burner.”

His work elaborately lays bare images of heroes like Mandela, and the pyrographic portraits lay bare his African pride and identity.

JESSICA PIERRE ROSS

“We really liked (Ross’s) reflection on African-Caribbean diaspora across the UK and her own family’s mixed Scottish and Caribbean heritage,” says Khan. “I think this is something a lot of people can relate to as second or third generation in the UK including myself.”

Having taken part in multiple Creative Debuts shows, she returns to unpack the many cultures that converge under the umbrella of black Britishness with her striking representation of black Scots in “The Clan”. She wrote about the layered meaning of the kilt clad men of colour in the images on her Instagram. “It aims to promote a multidimensional account of black masculinity; not singularly focussing on one characteristic or idea about black masculine identity, but various interpretations. Celebrating brotherhood, kinship, and mixed heritage.”

Through the images, Ross explores everything from masculine represental, dual heritage and offers a positive representation of blended cultures in a time when battle lines are being drawn based on nationality and ethnicity.

Common Thread is running from August 30 to September 1, 7:30 – 11pm.
74 Rivington St, Hackney, London EC2A 3AY
Attendance is free but RSVP is essential.

Read Next
ListsEight of Jenny Saville’s most compelling art works
Life LessonsHow to be an artist, according to Jenny Saville
NewsThe first major UK Keith Haring exhibition is coming to Liverpool
FashionA look at the subcultural legacy of New Balance