A taste of London’s summer exhibitions

By Kate Briggs

Our family trip to the UK was one way to feel warm this South African winter! Galleries gave great respite both physically and psychologically.

In London we focused on main museums and public galleries, especially they appealed most to my two teenagers, Anna and Oli. (London’s Goodman Gallery, Everard Read, Damian Hirst’s gallery and Bermondsey will have to wait for another time.)

Wangechi Mutu, Even my old soul has an old soul

We were spoilt for choice. Hayward’s In the Black Fantastic was tempting, especially as it included Chris Ofili and I interested to see how his work has developed (I remember the elephant dung well). But we saved the South Bank for Shakespeare’s Much Ado at the National Theatre (Anna is doing English A-level). But we did see one of the exhibiting artists, Wangechi Mutu’s large poster / piece on the Royal Festival Hall’s side wall.

The Procession – Hew Locke

You couldn’t miss another of the In the Black Fantastic artists, Hew Locke, at Tate Britain. It takes over all the main entrance gallery. The Procession is colourful, big and striking. References to the Caribbean, sugar industry and slavery were clear. While Henry Tate, the founder of the gallery, wasn’t a slave owner, the massive sugar business that made him so wealthy was from the labour of enslaved African people and their descendants.

Locke explains that a procession can be about protest, celebration, worship, escape, bettering oneself. “What I try to do in my works is mix ideas of discomfort, but strangely surreal at the same time.” I think he succeeded, although surreal didn’t come to mind. Perhaps because we had already visited Tate Modern’s Surrealism Beyond Borders. It aims to show how Surrealism wasn’t just a Parisian affair of the 1920s.

Works or artists were from many countries such as Guatemala, Belgrade, Mexico, Nagoya, Seoul and Cuba, 1920s to 1970s. Ambitious and not popular with all the art critics (too broad and some bad art). No mention of Southern Africa alas. I asked about Alexis Preller and the best reply was the difficulty to transport works from so far away!

Our Time on Earth at the Barbican

Anna’s and Oli’s favourite exhibition was at the Barbican. I wouldn’t have chosen going the City for art, especially a paying show in a smallish, curved gallery. But we were there have lunch with my god-daughter, then tea my husband’s aunt. Called Our Time on Earth, ‘’global creativity to transform the conversation around the climate crisis’’. The attention to detail, curation and quality were impressive. Fashion to future – broad ranging subjects but compact. Oli liked ‘’the real’’ and digital art. My favourite was a dinner table set up for feast for 17 different insects.

Africa Fashion

Africa Fashion I enjoyed the most. It was the busiest part of the V&A – upbeat, historical and contemporary. Mandela was there – in fabric and one of his bold African shirts; Merchants on Long too.  The politics and poetry of cloth and clothes were there in many media – photo’s, mannequins, video’s and text.

‘’Creativity and fashion allow us to write our own narratives’’

Awa Meite, fashion creative, 2021

“Cloth is to the African what monuments are to Westerners’’ El Anatsui echoing fellow artist Sonya Clark

Feminine Power: The Divine to the Demonic

Finally to the British Museum for our last exhibition Feminine Power: The Divine to the Demonic. The selectors were impressive women who I admire, with different axes to grind and backgrounds. But I searched in vein for a role model or representation that really inspired me. Oli, Anna and my friend Lizzy didn’t enjoy it much either. Oli liked afterwards, however, buying presents in their shop. While my energy was restored by a brownie in the cafe. Art can’t fulfil every need afterall, wherever you are in the world.

More images and info on my blog – http://cultureconnectsa.com/news/