Following Drawing over the Colour Line, Gemma Romain and Caroline Bressey have curated a room display at Tate Britain called Spaces of Black Modernism which extends Romain’s research into Black artists and models in London 1919-1939 and further augments knowledge of artists and artworks that have proved hard to find although hardly hidden.
It’s exciting to see previously ‘unknown’ works that reveal social-artistic-musical spheres which included people of varied Black ancestries without being in any ghetto except that of the visual and performing arts, where the address is not inward-looking but to external audiences. Which is Tate’s purpose too, so it’s good to see eclipsed artists featuring albeit on a modest scale compared to too-much Turner (given the several rooms already rightly occupied by his pictures) or the equally large latest spread by Turner prize nominees.
Spaces of Black Modernism raises further interesting questions about the role and experience of dark skin in Britain in the inter-war years; it also interrogates the patchy art history of that period, which may be coming back into fashion as it recedes further in time. One sometimes feels that only art of the last five minutes or over a century ago attracts critical attention and, as Romain’s research shows, the less noisy and/or celebrity artists are not only forgotten but literally lost, until one-by-one paintings, sculptures, photographs are found again.
It looks as if Black Modernism has further to go in recovering the past, and one looks forward to more manifestations, in different formats and venues, hopefully moving beyond London.
Apologies for lack of captions here: I will aim to add these soon as both artists and sitters deserve to be named.
PS Seek out the even smaller display of work by Marlow Moss, another casualty of history, in an adjacent Tate space.