Black History Month: looking back and looking forward

For Black History Month this October we commissioned several key local partners to produce a content series that celebrates and honours the profound contributions Black artists, designers, writers and community leaders make to Wandsworth’s culture and creative scene.

As November draws in, we would like to take the moment to express our continuous, fundamental commitment to embedding Black creative excellence in our programmes all year round, centring diverse voices and perspectives, and supporting improved representation in the arts more widely.

We hope you enjoyed October’s content, which you can find a round up of below.

“We must tell our own stories”

In this inspiring and important ‘in conversation’, Niellah Arboine, rising journalist and lifestyle editor of the game-changing magazine, gal-dem, sat down with established author, poet, and community activist, Dr Velma McClymont

They spoke about their shared Jamaican heritage; how books were a refuge for them both as young, shy girls; the consequences of underrepresentation and risks of being pigeonholed as a Black woman writer; and the urgent need for more Black authors, editors and publishers so that important stories are shared, preserved, and protected from misrepresentation. Watch the conversation here.

“It takes courage to know who you are when you are frequently called upon to explain yourself to the world” 

Local writer Esuantsiwa Jane Goldsmith paid tribute to John Archer, who was elected mayor of Battersea in 1913, making him London’s first Black Mixed-Race mayor. In her moving and inspiring account, Goldsmith reflected on how as a Black Mixed-Race young woman who grew up feeling isolated in Battersea in the 1950s, Archer was the role model she’d long been searching for, and whose legacy continues to inspire her activism work today. Read Goldsmith’s personal tribute here.

“I want to use choreography to bring back the names that nobody speaks about – the Black people who fought for us to be where we are today”

In an interview streamed on Wandsworth Arts Fringe, Mercy Nabirye spoke to Bawren Tavaziva, the Artistic Director of Wandsworth-based Tavaziva Dance, about growing up in Zimbabwe, his early dance career, and why he feels so passionately about translating the political and social injustices facing many Zimbabweans through his productions and educational programme. 

The video includes an extract from his 2006 duet Mandla, and a recent short film created in tribute to Steve Biko, a South African anti-apartheid activist who fought for Black people’s freedom. Watch the interview here.

Patrick Barrington, Self-Portrait, 1957, oil on masonite

“He was one of Battersea’s great artists, living in plain sight”

We paid tribute to Patrick Barrington, the Guyana-born, Battersea-based painter, whose life was as colourful as his paintings. His work was lamentably overlooked in this country, but in Guyana he is celebrated as a key player in the new generation of artists who came of age in the years leading up to the country’s independence from British colonial rule in 1966. Read the article here.

Olive Morris (1952–1979)

“In her short life, she left behind an extraordinary legacy of local activism”

Joyce Fraser from Black Heroes Foundation charted the life of the remarkable Olive Morris, who spent her formative years at Heathbrook primary school and Lavender Hills Girl school in Battersea. An immensely courageous and inspiring woman, Olive devoted her tragically short life to fighting racial, class and gender oppression, and left behind her an extraordinary legacy of local activism. Read the article here.

“I didn’t want to live a divided life so I had to forget the past”

We admired some of the paintings that celebrated artist Winston Branch produced when he kept a studio in Battersea between 1967 and 1976. During this time he was a member of the influential Caribbean Artists’ Movement, and in 1969 he participated in the Pan-African Cultural Festival in Algiers, an electrifying arts festival that united various liberation movements in Africa. A year after he left Battersea, he would participate 
in Festac ’77 in Lagos, a historically significant arts festival that some regard as a turning point in the development of a black global consciousness. Read the article on Winston Branch here.

West Indies fans celebrating after their team’s victory at the Oval in 1973. Source: Stabroek News.

“The Guyanese Windrush generation fear that the lack of knowledge young, British-born Guyanese have of their homeland may negatively affect their sense of identity”

Rod Westmaas and Dr Juanita Cox from Guyana SPEAKS, the monthly programme of events in Tooting that celebrates Guyanese culture for diasporans, profiled the work of Colin Babb, a local writer whose books explore the cultural significance of West Indian cricket for the Caribbean diaspora in Britain. Read the article here.

The front cover of Bounce Theatre’s zine of arts activities and creative challenges.

“Make sculpture, murals and letters to celebrate the people who inspire you”

As part of their Wandsworth Art takeover day on 10 October, Bounce Theatre asked local artists, designers and families to co-create and learn with a range of arts activities that celebrated Black History Month. Click here to access Bounce Theatre’s free, downloadable zine, full of creative activities and challenges to make and do at home.

Cook up a delicious African storm in the kitchen

The Woodfield Project hosted two live ‘cook-alongs’ on Wandsworth Arts Fringe, where inspiring women shared their stories as they cooked up a storm of delicious African cuisine in their kitchens. The first episode featured Chef Freda, who cooked the Ghanian dish redred and roasted plantains, and spoke with Mex, co-founder of Women in the Food Industry.
For the second episode, Mex was joined by Elainea Emmott, a TV Chef on Netflix’s Crazy Delicious, food writer, photographer, fashion designer and author whose story is packed with motivational advice for all aspiring cooks. She showed us how to cook a plantain burger with chilli tamarind jam and okra fries. If you missed the live episodes, you can find recordings of the cook-alongs on The Woodfield Project’s Instagram.

Image: Kay Rufai.

“We should stand unapologetically tall about how incredibly valuable black artists’ works are – not just in October but 365 days a year” 

Kay Rufai, photographer, poet, author and mental health researcher, and the artist behind the brilliant S.M.I.L.E-ing Boys Project that you may have seen in Nine Elms earlier this year, wrote a moving article on how Black history informs his practice:

“The very knowledge that the legacy of the footprints I walk in [did not begin] with legs in chains and fingers picking cotton, but instead, valiant, graceful innovators who shaped their imaginations into tangible monuments that only now can I recognise the value of….

This potential contribution to the histories of tomorrow inspires me to imagine the black futures NOW.”

Read his words here.

Kay Rufai’s new film, ‘Black Future’.

From Black History to the Black Future

Rufai has also recently developed ‘Black Future’his new poem that was commissioned by the Council for Black History Month, into a film. It builds on his poem about how Black History is lived right now, and provides the perfect closing note to the programme as we look forwards. The equally powerful and tender film invites us to take a moment and consider how we want our collective and personal futures to look like, the words we must say, the words we must listen to, and the voices we all must amplify.