The New Black Vanguard has arrived at London’s Saatchi Gallery, featuring works from Campbell Addy, Tyler Mitchell, Ruth Ossai, and Quil Lemons
“I don’t want people to come here and just see Black people,” says Campbell Addy, at the press preview of The New Black Vanguard exhibition. “I think that’s so lazy. Yes, we are Black people but we experience so many other things outside of just our race. So I don’t want people to come and be like ‘Oh what a fab Black exhibition!’, because they don’t do that with other ethnic minorities.” Curated by writer and critic Antwaun Sargent, the show surveys the work of young photographers across the African diaspora, and resists a clear-cut definition of the “Black experience”.
“The images say that Blackness is not a monolith,” Sargent notes. “They say that there is great diversity in the Black community. They say that the aesthetic concerns are varied. Formally they are blending different genres of photography, from landscape imagery to portraiture, to construct new images that reflect their individual realities. They feel utopic because they are largely celebrating new notions of identity that their generation has championed throughout the culture.”
“What it comments on is the beauty and variety of our practice,” Addy continues. “My version of photography is completely different to Nadine Ijewere’s, even though we’re from the same place, Tyler Mitchell is from the south of America, and you’ll understand our work more when you take all those things into account.” Accompanied by a fat coffee table tome, the show is currently in its third iteration, and opens at the Saatchi Gallery today – showcasing 15 photographers across 100-plus portraits, fashion editorials, and test shoots, among them Ruth Ossai, Micaiah Carter, Quil Lemons, and Stephen Tayo. “It’s a timestamp but it’s also a question mark. Like, what is a Black vanguard? Why is it there? Why hasn’t it been before? It’s a space where we can pose these questions and have longevity.”
But Addy is careful not to overstate the meaning of the term “New Black Vanguard”. “I think of titles like the YBAs. Every collective that has a label is a pinpoint on the timeline of history. Never before have we seen such a huge group of Black people creating work within fashion, photography, and art at the same time. And it can be used for anyone; not just the people in this exhibition.” Staged in conjunction with Burberry – which has taken over a backroom in the Saatchi with some of its favourite images – the exhibition functions as a reference point for other up-and-coming artists. “If only I had something like this in uni,” Addy says. “I had to go to Scotland once to get a book that hadn’t been taken out of a library since like 1989. It makes you think, as a Black artist, ‘am I going to disappear?’”
“Seeing our work, art, and commerce in a gallery is new, it’s exciting, but it’s not a trend. The success of the show proves that it’s only up from here.”
The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion is at the Saatchi gallery from October 28 to January 22. Tickets can be purchased here