Challenging the Narrative: Black Resistance to Scientific Bias

Until January 2024

For Black Futures Season 2023, a new exhibition focusing on influence of scientific ideology, racism and resilience will open at Black Cultural Archives. Challenging the Narrative, split into four parts, will explore how science has impacted understandings on beauty, intelligence, mental health and policing and across historic and contemporary society.


Despite having lost scientific credibility, eugenics theories about race and identity have had long reaching consequences in society, particularly for the Black community, that are still being felt today. This exhibition will focus on how the black community have resisted and been impacted by false narratives and the pernicious effects of racist science across four themes: beauty, intelligence, mental illness and policing.

Challenging the Narrative follows Wellcome Collection’s exhibition Genetic Automata that launched in June this year. Genetic Automata presents a series of four films exploring scientific racism – the false belief that there are innate differences and abilities between races. It reflects on deeply ingrained ideas about race come from and the role that science has played in shaping these perceptions. The series highlights how scientific racism is reproduced in contemporary society, from education to healthcare, science, politics and more. Genetic Automatic can be seen at Wellcome Collection until 11 February 2024.

A highlight in the exhibition will be the video work _GOD_MODE_ by artists Larry Achiampong and David Blandy, which is a reflection on the legacy of Francis Galton, the notable Victorian scientist who established eugenics as a scientific discipline at University College London (UCL) in 1904. The film considers the roots and implications of scientific racism, exploring how traces of eugenic practices have left their mark across society today, from education to medicine and politics, whilst presenting hopes for an alternative future.

In _GOD_MODE_, Blandy and Achiampong present the history of eugenics and explore its present-day legacy in philosophical, poetic and polemic terms. Filmed in two halves, the first is voiced by Blandy, who is white and middle class, born in London, of English heritage.  He alludes to intelligence tests, racist and sexist discrimination, and the systemic use of sterilisation across the world, all under the guise of objective science. His poignant testimony is layered upon footage from UCL’s Science Collections and features some of the instruments Galton used to measure and categorise people, a selection of which are displayed alongside the film.

In the second half of the film, Achiampong, who is Black and working class, born in London of Ghanaian heritage living in Essex, delivers a lyrical yet powerful account that questions the limits of empathy in the struggle against injustice, suggesting that what is needed is not simply solidarity but real change, which would necessitate the demolition of generations of privilege. This part of the film visually invites the viewers into an immersive videogame environment following a large spider as it travels different landscapes – a reference to the West African folklore legend of Anansi, a shapeshifting demi-god, who changes form to achieve their aims.

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