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Monday, May 23, 2022
Michael McMillian -The Front Room

Life Between Islands – a new perspective


Soca News previewed Tate Britain’s exhibition of Caribbean-British art from the 1950s to the present in our March 2022 issue, but that was before we’d had a chance to see the exhibition for ourselves. If you haven’t already seen the show you really must head to Tate Britain before it closes on 3 April.

If you can, visit the exhibition with a friend, because these artworks are sure to trigger memories, stimulate conversation and provoke debate.

What the early previews and reviews didn’t make clear is the sheer variety of works and styles the show encompasses, from fabric designs to big three-dimensional constructions, abstract paintings to gritty (but technically superb) photographs and some interesting, even disturbing, video installations. It was refreshing to see modern art that was neither ugly nor pretentious but genuinely thought-provoking, sometimes beautiful and always offering lots of points of connection. The latter include the oh-so-recognisable Front Room (Michael McMillan) and Blue Curry’s Sun Chasers – airline seats that hold the promise of a tropical sun-sea-sand holiday.

One reviewer claimed that the show was a sham because it didn’t include Carnival within it. Really? They couldn’t have been looking very hard! Explicit references to Carnival can be found in, for example, John Lyons’ colourful Ash Wednesday and Carnival Spectator, Tam Joseph’s The Spirit of the Carnival – a masquerader surrounded by police and a snarling dog – and Denzil Forrester’s tribute to sound systems, Jah Shaka. For La Jablesse, Zak Ové fashioned the mythical (we hope!) seductress from found materials including beached rope from the Thames. Then there’s Chris Ofili’s mysterious Blue Devils (easier to see in a photograph than in the gallery) and Peter Doig’s nod to calypso with Drunk and Disorderly (Always in Custody) Mighty Sparrow.

While not specifically about Carnival, many other exhibits are definitely carnivalesque, like Hew Locke’s intricately decorated headdresses, Alberta Whittle’s ingeniously constructed duppy Road Openers (for E) and Ada M Patterson’s video Lookalook, which shows what happens when you play a kind of mas out of the licensed time and place.

In short, there’s so much to see and enjoy that it would be a hard-hearted visitor who didn’t wish they could come away with at least one of the works on display. The next best thing – and less likely to land you in jail – is to buy the substantial (272-page) illustrated book of the show, which is priced at £40 but sells in the gallery shop at £35 (ISBN 978 1 84976 765 1). You can also pick up a free collection of “stories reflecting on Caribbean-British life in London”.

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