Saturday, September 20, 2014

miscellaneous London art/photographs, mostly Victorian

To Shoreditch High Street to see a fabulous small exhibition of photographs of Black Britons, and Black visitors to Britain, in the C19th: the African Choir (one woman, Eleanor Xiniwe, uncannily like a far more beautiful Virginia Woolf); various "Zulu boys;" missionaries; a lion tamer; boxers, emissaries and envoys; a cricketer; bishops and clergy; a Creole French-Caribbean can-can dancer (that would be Finette, briefly Whistler's mistress); the inhabitants of the Congo House Training Institute for African Children at Colwyn Bay - but more intriguing still, to me, a large number of "unidentified sitters," from all round the country - Liverpool, Exeter, Birmingham, Manchester, Swansea, Birkenhead, Ripon, Bradford, Doncaster, Ipswich - and on and on, as well as from London. This is the first public showing of Autograph ABP's archive research project, and was accompanied by a voice-over of Stuart Hall's keynote for the inaugural symposium, back in 2008, launching the project, bringing home the importance of archival work: bringing forward the forgotten, ignored, disavowed experiences within history (or within a dominant version of history).  Many of these images are from that goldmine, the archives of the London Stereoscopic and Photographic Co.; some are in private collections.  If you're in London before it closes on 29th November, go.

Alas - one can't take photographs, although here are Albert Jones and John Xiniwe playing with a camera, seen in the window of the show (and a mural of William Burroughs, most incongruously, in the background).

Up the street is a famous Banksy (preserved behind glass ...);

... and now for some further incongruities.  Here - as part of a campaign to put well known works of art on billboards and in public spaces this summer - is a not especially well known portrait by Julia Margaret Cameron of an Unknown Italian, contemplating quite how hard it must be to lug a large suitcase up the stairs at Aldgate East tube station;

coming soon, Effie Gray - that's Mrs Ruskin, first, and then Mrs Millais, to those few of you who don't know the family history - predictably illustrated not by a painting of Effie, but of Lizzie Siddal as Ophelia;

... and then, finally - whose bright idea was it to subtitle Late Turner, at Tate Britain, "Painting Set Free"- when this is printed over a reproduction of his Slave Ship, the incarnadine waters (Ruskin's phrase, surely echoing Macbeth) full of slaves whose only freedom comes with a watery death - or even barely then, given the shackles that are just visible through the rough sea?

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