Elaborate vibrant costumes made from bags, sequins and artificial flowers by Nick Cave make a powerful impact on visitors to Hayward Gallery’s In the Black Fantastic exhibition – a contemporary art exhibition of works by artists of the African diaspora who draw from science fiction and myth.
But it would be a mistake to assume these works are solely fantastical as they address real-world political issues – Cave designed his costumes, which he calls soundsuits, after seeing the horrific assault of Rodney King in 1991 on television. The concept behind his soundsuits was to create clothing that doesn’t reveal the wearers' race, gender or class – social constructs that sadly still govern the freedoms and successes of many individuals around the world.
Nick Cave Soundsuit 2014
Great fantasy and science fiction is about taking us away to other worlds, while also relating to the one we’re on and that’s exactly what this exhibition does, including quotes from black sci-fi writers such as Octavia Butler along the walls. Likewise a film by Wangechi Mutu shows a Steampunk-esque floating island, pumping out fumes, covered with wayward limbs and surrounded by crows - presenting a clear parallel with the destruction of our own planet.
Other highlights include the striking self-portraits of Lina Iris Viktor in vivid gold, blues and reds that combine the concept of Greek prophetesses with the history of Liberia and how it was designed to be a country for free African Americans, but cause divisions of its own in how those native to the country were treated.
Lina Iris Viktor, constellations
Hew Locke currently has an outstanding installation at Tate Britain and his work quite literally shines here as well with four figures on horseback bedecked with gold, jewels and references to slavery and colonialism. Based on the statues we see in places such as London, it can be read as showing the colonial powers as the looters they were.
In light of the Black Lives Matter movement, there’s been a welcome move to highlight more black artists in exhibitions but this is the first we’ve seen to focus solely on the fantastic and mythical to draw attention to racial injustice and the Black experience. Combined with a superb line-up of 11 contemporary artists the result is a superb exhibition that’s both needed and memorable.
In the Black Fantastic at Hayward Gallery. 29 June - 18 September, £13.50.
|What||In the Black Fantastic, needed and memorable|
|Where||Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London, SE1 8XX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
29 Jun 22 – 18 Sep 22, Wed – Sat, 11am – 7pm Sundays 10am – 6pm Closed Mon & Tue
|Website||Click here for more information|