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Why Staying Power Has Staying Power at BCA Brixton This July
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Why Staying Power Has Staying Power at BCA Brixton This July

Picture of Edwina Boyd-Gibbins
Updated: 10 December 2015
Celebrating the first anniversary of its dedicated heritage center in Brixton – the UK’s first space dedicated exclusively and permanently to black heritage – the Black Cultural Archives (BCA) is putting on a host of vibrant celebrations to mark the occasion. And with things heating up for the rest of July, now is the time to drop by and soak up the buzzing atmosphere.
Charlie Phillips, 'Vin in Chair', 2002. © Charlie Phillips/ Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Charlie Phillips, ‘Vin in Chair’, 2002. | © Charlie Phillips/ Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Staying Power: The Exhibition

To celebrate its first birthday, the BCA is holding an exhibition of photographs that document the history of black cultural experience in Britain throughout the second half of the twentieth century, from the years following World War II up until the end of the 1990s.

Staying Power, a poignant and empowering exhibition, is curated from photographs drawn from the V&A’s eminent collection and is the result of a seven-year collaboration between the two institutions. It pieces together the challenges, triumphs and every day moments of black history in Britain. The exhibition spans every aspect of daily and national life, from politics to music, and from fashion to family. It moves through intimate moments between lovers, friends and relatives and out into the public sphere, highlighting the way individuals present their identities to the outside world.

Through portraiture, documentary shots, street photography and staged compositions, the exhibition covers major national, local and cultural events. These include the Commonwealth and mass migration, the demonstrations of the 1980s, ska youth sub-culture, black beauty pageants and the emergence of reggae in the UK. The images, most of which were taken by six critically acclaimed British photographers, are accompanied by as yet unheard snippets of oral testimony from the artists, contributors and subjects, adding another layer to the rich black history in Britain.

Staying Power has been specially extended to run until Friday, July 31st. Doors are open between 10am and 6pm, Tuesday to Saturday. Entry is free.

Truth About Youth performers © Ovalhouse
Truth About Youth performers | © Ovalhouse

Bringing it to Life: Truth About Youth

The impact of Staying Power goes well beyond the walls of the heritage center, extending out into the local community in a number of ways. One of the most engaging extensions of the exhibition is the evening dance and drama shows performed by Truth About Youth, a South London drama and dance programme based at Ovalhouse that aims to turn around negative perceptions of young people.

Starting at the BCA, “I Am A Promise,” the first act of a larger narrative, I Am Your Neighbour, is performed by the youngest members of the group, aged 13 – 18. Working with their directors and producers, the young performers have put together their own interpretation of Staying Power and express what the exhibition means to them through the mediums of dance, movement, drama and music. Their youthful enthusiasm and energy is infectious, and even the most sceptical theatre-goer will find it hard to resist their calls to join them dancing onstage at the close of their performance.

Naomi Shoba, Festival Director of I Am Your Neighbour and Head of Youth Arts at Ovalhouse commented, “We did a lot of research into music. Music has the power to connect communities, to connect history, and it was very important to us that the music was a true reflection of what would have been playing in Brixton at the time.”

Following the first Act at the BCA, the I Am Your Neighbour narrative promenades through Brixton, with three more acts being played out by the older members of the Under 26 group at various locations. The rest of the performance – Paved with Gold – extends the story of black cultural history to include the vibrancy of life in Brixton up to the present day. Overall, I Am Your Neighbour is an atmospheric, engaging, highly contemporary and relevant show by talented and passionate young performers which expresses the energy and enduring strength of the black community in London.

With Ovalhouse moving to Brixton in 2016, I Am Your Neighbour couldn’t be a better way for the theatre to introduce itself to its new neighborhood. “This performance is the culmination of the five year Truth About Youth program, and we’re immensely proud that this is our finale,” said Naomi Shoba. “It is an homage to all of the creative young people who’ve passed through our doors. It is a celebration, a thank you, and a hello to our new neighbors.”

Tickets for I Am Your Neighbour are free but limited, and are available from the Ovalhouse Box Office. Evening shows start at 6 pm at the BCA courtyard and will run until Friday, July 17th.

Neil Kenlock, 'Untitled [Young lady points to 'Keep Britain White' graffiti at the International Personnel training centre in Balham]', 1974. © Neil Kenlock/ Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Neil Kenlock, ‘Untitled [Young lady points to ‘Keep Britain White’ graffiti at the International Personnel training centre in Balham]’, 1974. | © Neil Kenlock/ Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The Ritzy Plays its Part

The iconic Ritzy cinema in Brixton, which is a mere stone’s throw from the BCA, has also got in on the action, partnering with the BCA to host the Staying Power: Black Britain on Screen film festival.

The festival is a celebration of the cinema of black experience and gives recognition to the pioneering voices of black British film. The festival includes feature films, documentaries, shorts and debates, honouring the documentarians, activists and independent filmmakers who have helped define black cinematic history in the UK from 1950 up to the present day.

Upcoming screenings include critically acclaimed Dear White People, a brutally honest portrayal of contemporary black identity in the Western World, The Fade, a documentary exploring the sub-texts of black male grooming habits, and Medicine for Melancholy, a modern-day romance that confronts black displacement within increasingly gentrified urban spaces.

The film festival concludes with a series of special screenings to coincide with the BCA heritage center’s birthday. On Friday, July 24th the festival will reach the present day with a screening ofBlack in the Digital Age and a debate around Soul Cinema: Mirroring the Black Atlantic. The festival will culminate in a free, open-air showing ofBlack in the Digital Age at 9:30 pm on Saturday, July 25th at the BCA.

Tickets are available here.

Ritzy Cinema, Brixton Oval, Coldharbour Lane, London SW2 1JG, +44 (0) 871 902 5739

Staying Power © BCA
Staying Power | © BCA

Make History by Telling Your Story

To expand the reach and extend the life of Staying Power and also underline the fact that black cultural identity – like any identity – is still being defined, the BCA has invited members of the public to contribute their own photographic records of black British experience from 1950 to the present day in a Public Call Out. Building on the sense that photography is a key facilitator when it comes to taking ownership of one’s cultural identity, and bringing the public closer still to the exhibition, individuals will have the chance to add their own personal experience to the wider narrative, helping to shape and broaden the conversation around black British history, and the wider historical narrative of Britain.

The BCA has said they will welcome images that tell tales of identity, experience and representation, and which relate to migration and belonging, community and place, fashion and style, religion and spirituality, protest and progress, entrepreneurialism and enterprise, and music and the arts. Those wishing to contribute to the exhibition will be asked to share their photographs and stories so they can be preserved and curated for the future as part of a unique collection for all to access at the BCA, allowing visitors to engage further with the individual histories that are so often hidden.

Those wishing to get involved can donate their pictures and tell their stories at a dedicated workshop on Saturday, July 25th between 2 pm and 5 pm at the BCA. Contributors will need to register their interest first.

James Barnor, 'Mike Eghan, Piccadilly Circus', 1967. © James Barnor/ Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.
James Barnor, ‘Mike Eghan, Piccadilly Circus’, 1967. | © James Barnor/ Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Meet the Photographers

To add a final dimension to the celebrations at the BCA this July, those wishing to learn more about the photographers themselves, their experiences and their techniques for capturing life on camera can attend an exclusive and intimate evening with Neil Kenlock, Jennie Baptiste and Charlie Phillips on Thursday, July 16th from 7 pm to 9 pm at the BCA.

The Staying Power Unseen: African Photographers’ Narratives event will give these foremost photographers behind the exhibition the platform to share with a small audience their experience, knowledge of photography, and advice on capturing a unique and authentic narrative. Attendees will also have the rare opportunity to view the photographers’ own private collections.

The event will be open to ticket holders only and there will be entertainment, a buffet and drinks on offer. Tickets are £25, or £20 for concessions, and are available from Event Brite.

Black Cultural Archives, 1 Windrush Square, Brixton, London SW2 1EF +44 (0)203 757 8500

By Edwina Boyd-Gibbins

Edwina Boyd-Gibbins is a freelance journalist, writer and publicist. She’s contributed to the likes of The Guardian and Stylist, and is a regular contributor to The Culture Trip. She’s passionate about food and all things cultural, and also writes about restaurants and recipes on her blog, All Things Nice.