Black History Month 2021
1 October 2021
At RAMM we continuously explore and celebrate Black history, heritage, and Black contributions to artistic practise. This Black History Month we’re taking a look back at recent exhibitions, artworks and research from Black artists, and collaborations with local community groups.
Black history and the local community
We collaborated with Hikmat Devon, a group which supports minority ethnic communities on Hikmat Remembers, a 2015-2017 project to remember African and Asian contributions in the First World War. RAMM hosted a public talk about the Chinese Labour Corps, an academic lecture about colonial soldiers on the Western Front, and creative community activities. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the project led to an emotional journey of learning and reflection for everyone involved. A 2018 display, curated by Hikmat, brought to life the largely unsung diversity of the First World War.
Exploring cultural and national definitions
In early 2019, celebrated British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare MBE curated Criminal Ornamentation, a vibrant exhibition featuring work from the Arts Council Collection that celebrated the use of pattern and ornament.
A recipient of the prestigious Art Icon Award from Whitechapel Gallery in London in 2021, Shonibare explores issues of race and class and questions meanings of cultural and national definitions in his work. Criminal Ornamentation reflected this, addressing the cultural and social dimensions of the use of pattern in modern and contemporary art. The exhibition challenged the idea that ornamentation is a crime and instead embraced colour, ornament and pattern as means of social and political expression. Find out more.
For Black History Month last year we spoke to two leading British artists about their art, and how race and cultural differences impact their practice: Joy Gregory and Nahem Shoa. Both artists explore what it means to be British in modern society, and how this question of identity is ever-changing and evolving.
Joy Gregory is a contemporary photographer who uses techniques ranging from video, digital and analogue photography to Victorian print processes to produce her work. Concerned with social and political issues, Joy makes particular reference to history, and cultural differences in contemporary society. Currently, Joy’s work is being exhibited in ‘Care | Contagion | Community — Self & Other’, part of 10 artist commissions responding to the wider contexts of the Covid-19 crisis at Autograph gallery in Hackney, London. Take a look.
Watch Joy discuss Devon’s local links to the slave trade, and her research into the RAMM collections.
Nahem Shoa is a contemporary painter known for having increased the number of portraits of Black and mixed-race British people on display in British museums. He also serves on RAMM’s Contemporary Arts Panel. Watch Nahem Shoa explore Portrait of Des, racism in art, and Britain today.
Working with an Advisory Panel
Opening in January 2022, a new exhibition In Plain Sight: Transatlantic Slavery and Devon will investigate aspects of Devon and Exeter’s relationship with the transatlantic slave trade. Using RAMM’s collections and the personal and professional experience of many contributors it aims to shed light on this hidden history and its legacy.
We are working with an Advisory Panel, community researchers, academics and students to help us to tell the story of Devon’s relationship with the transatlantic slave trade as honestly as we can. We are aware of RAMM’s limitations being made up of predominately white staff, so through listening to these groups from local diverse communities we will ensure that their voices are heard, learn from their experience and perspective and thus influence the exhibition.
We are continuing to work with Joy Gregory on In Plain Sight, where she has been commissioned to create an artwork to be displayed alongside the exhibition.