Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Black Cultural Archives

 A plug for the new Black Cultural Archives centre in Brixton, and its opening exhibition, featuring the heritage of Black women in Britain through modern history, starting with a digital reconstruction of the face of a woman of African origin buried in York 2000 years ago, and the head of a serving woman in a drawing by Albrecht Dürer now in the British Museum.  It doesn’t aim to cover everything, partly because space is tight, but it gives a brilliant visual tour from the centuries up to the present, with Claudia Jones and Baroness Doreen Lawrence among recent figures of renown, and a poignant silent movie by  John Akomfrah dramatising the experience of Dürer’s sitters – so a great variety of media and approaches in a concise installation.  Also included the original ‘Crimea scrapbook’ – in fact a double folio volume of professionally mounted items including the oval photograph of Mary Seacole found in Winchester College library.   It is a pity that the gallery space is not larger because today it was difficult to move around for all the families studying the exhibits and panels and listening to the audio-guides – but a good augury for the future, with well-focussed, thoughtful displays.

The building is worth seeing too – the conversion of a run-down regency house with a new front courtyard space and a modern extension, by architects Pringle Richards Sharratt, based in Stockwell, who were responsible for the comparably visitor-friendly updating of the William Morris Gallery in E17.

Oh and of course there’s a café.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

A black face at Kelmscott Manor

Kelmscott Manor has some very old and very faded Flemish tapestry hangings, which were in the house when William Morris first took it on an annual lease in 1871, and date from the 17th century.  The story they depict in a now rather jumbled and mangled form is that of Samson, being blinded and demolishing the Philistine temple.  I had not noticed before the presence of a typical baroque serving-boy, wearing a neat stripey shirt and holding a water-jar, whose dark skin remains visible, though equally faded. 

And here is a photo from a few months before Morris's death, taken by Frederick Evans at Morris's request, which shows the tapestry as it then was, hanging over a closet door - 

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Soldiers of Empire

that is,  soldiers from Africa, India, Caribbean, south-east Asia etc  drafted into European armies during WW1  -   a lot of very new and important material and interpretation from David Olusoga

Here for next few days :

then a second programme on 13 August

Monday, 4 August 2014


I've always thought this an extraordinary poem, starting so rationally and ending so illogically, with the baffling central  images of war's aftermath  as both beautiful and burnt-out.  Its expression of naive nationalism helps explain however what so many, no doubt on all sides, felt once the conflict began - and would no doubt do so today in comparable circumstances.

This is no case of petty right or wrong
That politicians or philosophers
Can judge.  I hate not Germans, nor grow hot
With love of Englishmen, to please newspapers.
Beside my hate for one fat patriot
My hatred of the Kaiser is love true:-
A kind of god he is, banging a gong.
But I have not to choose between the two,

Or between justice and injustice.  Dinned
With war and argument I read no more
Than in the storm smoking along the wind
Athwart the wood.  Two witches' cauldrons roar.
From one the weather shall rise clear and gay;
Out of the other an England beautiful
And like her mother that died yesterday.
Little I know or care if, being dull,

I shall miss something that historians
Can rake out of the ashes when perchance
The phoenix broods serene above their ken.
But with the best and meanest Englishmen
I am one in crying, God save England, lest
We lose what never slaves and cattle blessed.
The ages made her that made us from dust:
She is all we know and live by, and we trust
She is good and must endure, loving her so:
And as we love ourselves we hate our foe

and presumably 'what never slaves or cattle blessed' and the poet fears to lose as an 'Englishman' is freedom - except that slave surely did bless it ?