LIFE BETWEEN ISLANDS
CARIBBEAN-BRITISH ART 1950S – NOW
Had a brief chat with a mum and daughter, like us, from Birmingham specially to see the Life Between Islands exhibition at the old Tate. Went something like, ‘shame it’s not happening in Brum’ considering the Midlands has some deep connections to some of the works on show here. At 16 quid a pop tickets plus train fare was it worth it? Yes, because a photo doesn’t do justice to the colours but, most of all, to see some beautiful film pieces by such as Isaac Juliens (shimmering, over-saturated beach dreams) and Martina Attillle’s Dreaming Rivers, a 16 millimetre filmed story painting that, apart from anything else, captures the myriad tones of Black skin in a way that has been mainly lacking over the decades and still persists to this day on harsh, badly lit sets. Talking of photo’s, Birmingham’s Pogus Ceasar and Vanley Burke have some of their now iconic shots amongst the paintings and sculpture, making the urban connection graphic, between the vivid colours of the sunnier islands and this miserable rainy rock.
To get to the exhibition in the old Tate you have to pass through another, of some kind of ruined moonscape, with life-size crashed space ships and a very loud soundtrack of moaning wind which follows you through as you move into the next gallery. Meaning that the spasms of dub, spoken word and carnival tunes exist in this constant, sort of ominous foggy drone which adds an unwelcome element to the exhibition. It indicates a lack of respect.
The works are set out in a very ‘Tate’ way. It’s very neat and tidy. You are invited to look and listen in separate spaces and any thematic link is almost accidental. In some ways, this set up allows us to consider each work on its own terms, which is as it should be, but, until you bump into one of these elsewhere in the museum next to a Turner or a Picasso, to be considered as an equal, then I’ll go on believing this is accidental and that the exhibition is a late addition, along with the removal of Rex Whistler’s racist trash mural in 2020, of a very slow awakening precipitated by Black Lives Matter. It only takes a worldwide street movement and the culmination of hundreds of deaths for an institution like the Tate to give its venerable head a likkle wobble.
There probably won’t be another chance to see many of these works in one place for a while, so I would still recommend a visit. The overall vibe is a joyful one, a strong celebration and the images of protest (that are inevitable) add to this strength.
Main Image: Remain, Thriving - Njidika Akunyili Crosby (the scene imagines a gathering of the grandchildren of the Windrush Generation...)
2nd image from the top: La Jablesse - Zak Ové
3rd image from top: Untitled - Claudette Johnson
4th image from top: After Ophelia - Lisa Brice (multiplied here to fit the format...)
Life Between Islands
Until April 3rd, 2022
Tate Britain website is here