Updated: Nov 7, 2020
Black British Artists Continue to Change the British Creative Scene and Serve as a Reminder to not be Afraid to Stand Out from the Crowd.
Legendary filmaker Horace Ové
The creative arts is a billion pound industry, contributing £10.8 billion to the U.K. economy, and its strong roots in Edinburgh and London have become signifiers of British culture. Every year tourists travel across seas to see our live shows, gallery exhibitions and travel to concerts in their own countries to see British artists. This summer, a new exhibition by creative Zak Ové was launched at Somerset House that celebrated fifty years of black creativity in Britain, featuring talented artists who throughout the years have contributed to the British creative scene. Starting with the Windrush generation of the 1950’s black artists have continued to grow and influence British culture in every creative discipline. Starting with
who was the first black filmmaker to make a feature film in the U.K , the exhibition featured around one hundred artists all varying in different creative mediums. The Windrush generation brought a fresh new style and talent to the British scene in terms of fashion, music and dance which consequently went on to influence other creative work. A foundation which has been built upon and developed over the last fifty years to form the creative scene we have today.
Zak Ové at Somerset House
I personally have always had a passion for the arts as a way of expressing myself; as a powerful and influential entertainment medium and as an enriching career choice. I fell in love with theatre, dance and creative writing from a young age and it has shaped me as a person and continues to do so everyday. Equally being drawn to each of them I could never see myself giving up one to pursue the other, and so I knew I needed a career that could combine all three. That is what is so special about the arts sector. Everyone can do everything and anyone can do anything. It’s all interlinked, which can make artists very flexible and well-rounded whilst making sure that their careers will always be exciting and full of variety.
I took my undergraduate degree in Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Warwick and through my experience there, it has allowed me to explore mental health, gender and race politics through the medium of theatre. In my final year I directed a short play as a part of a book launch for Contemporary Plays by African Women at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry and Oxford Playhouse. I am now half way through a part time masters course in Creative Writing and am a drama teacher for an academy part time. Both theatre and creative writing has helped to build me as a person and to understand myself and the race, gender and identity politics that surround me as an individual.
I’ve always had good black role models to look up to in the arts. My godfather runs his own theatre company in Norway (The Nordic Black Theatre), and my grandad was in a band that helped to start the reggae music movement. Their fearlessness, love and devotion to the arts has always inspired me, and with my parent's continual support it has allowed me to follow my innate passion for dance, theatre and creative writing.
Tribute to the Heroes - Nordic Black Theatre
I am one to always be constantly working on creative projects, and recently this has cultivated in me starting my own creative school (FLOW) for children aged six to seventeen currently focusing on dance and creative writing but looking to expand to theatre and photography in the future. We have been having classes online through Zoom over the lockdown period and hope to move to physical classes in the near future. Our dance classes look at the styles of jazz, contemporary and lyrical dance, whilst the creative writing classes focus on all forms of creative writing with each week focusing on a specific form. We also provide adult exercise classes and my favourite class which is the ‘sass’ dance class which focuses on women’s confidence in themselves and their bodies. As an organisation we have supported a Grassroots U.K. initiative which offered children free creative writing classes if they applied through Grassroots U.K. Youth as a way of helping to make the creative arts more accessible. An initiative that both Grassroots Youth and FLOW Creative School are working on expanding in the future. Starting this creative school alongside working to develop a career in writing for television, theatre, poetry and novels is what gives me motivation and a purpose everyday. Life is not about taking it easy and seeing what opportunities present itself to you. It is about following and living your passions. Being in a career that inspires you and motivates you, believing in causes that are significant and meaningful and creating opportunities for yourself. The best advice I could give myself and to anyone is to be brave and to do what you want to do even if it scares you. Life is long and there is nothing worse than being stuck in a job you don’t want to do.
Black people in the arts are shining at the moment and they have been for a long time. Huge role models and unsung heroes, working everyday to inspire, change and challenge preconceptions and the creative industry as we know it. Black Panther was an eye-opening and powerful blockbuster film for many people but particularly the black community. Winning twenty-nine awards, it was not a great ‘black’ film, it was a great film in general. The death of Chadwick Boseman hit the world but especially our black community hard. He was such a strong role model and inspirational for people everywhere and his presence in the world will be greatly missed.
Black Panther' Star Chadwick Boseman The New York Times
Stormzy has been taking the world by storm, becoming the first ever black solo artist to headline Glastonbury and the second youngest ever. Giving back to the black community through funding initiatives, scholarships and launching his own ‘Merky Books’ in Penguin to represent underrepresented writers. Wretch 32, using his expertise in grime as one of the founders of the movement, in his book Rapthology: Lessons in Life and Lyrics educates young people on lyric writing, using his platform and experiences to inspire a generation. Breaking his lyrics down, he explains how he put the lyrics together, discussing language devices, literary techniques and backstories along the way whilst referring to Shakespeare and Proust in relation to his work. As a creative writer I have found his book inspirational. There is a clear reason as to why he is known for his creative and technically sound lyrics. A revolutionary book that helps young people bridge the gap between classic literary texts and the modern British music scene, a book in which he hopes will in the future be included in the GCSE english syllabus. He is also known for giving back to his home community in Tottenham, wanting to show the young people growing up there an influential role model to look up to. Both Wretch 32 and Stormzy present a healthy image of what men should be like rather than the usual toxic masculinity that we see in our everyday lives. Celebrating and showing a huge appreciation for black women and showing a more gentle and open side of black men.
Stormzy at Glastonbury 2019
Diversity and their beautiful controversial dance performance on Britain’s Got Talent and their resilience and strength through receiving the negative publicity and feedback from viewers. ITV’s decision to ignore the large sum of complaints and stand by Diversity presenting a positive image, but the fact that there were so many complaints shows that there is still a way to go. The determination and strength of Diversity, ITV and Ashley Banjo just goes to show we shouldn’t be afraid to stand out from the crowd and that the performing arts is an influential and powerful way to explore important and challenging issues. Alicia Dixon with her book series’ Lightening Girl and Star Switch which feature strong black female leads which gives young black girls a powerful black role model to look up to whether that is in her as a creative or her characters. It’s been refreshing to hear when at my last job I asked children what their favourite book was, they would often say the ‘Lightning Girl’ series because they loved the main character and, a lot of the time the children were white. Look Up a book by Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola won Waterstone’s Best Children’s Book of the Year category and I believe it was the first time the category had ever been won by a black person.
Black creatives all across the U.K. are using their platforms and voices to pave a way for the future black generations of children. Creating powerful pieces of art whilst giving back to and supporting not only the black community but the U.K’s culture as a whole. A reminder of how influential black creative voices can be and how powerful the medium of the creative arts is at helping to enact change and represent lived experiences. We have come so far since Ové’s feature film ‘Pressure’ and this is summed up in Stormzy’s Heavy is the Head album on his track, Crown, ‘Look at all these legends on the cover of Elle. Long time comin' but we come to prevail’ and we have to be thankful of where we are now to the people who have come before us, paved the way for us and so greatly influenced what we know today.
Written by B.O.E member, Tenikah Beveney
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