Dr Sireita Mullings – Lawrence

Reflection on the significance of Black history, led me to consider the way in which, the formation of any history requires the exploration and retelling of the past in relation to the present.

This is something we see repeatedly in human daily quests to connect, who we are with others. From the query of family value, skill patterns and to genetic reference points, they form a default position into a human enquiry where we are constantly writing our own history with every moment spent. So yes – black history is relevant because it contextualises current states of being. As an arts practitioner who draws upon the work of the Caribbean and Black arts movement to discuss sociological themes in the context of art history I constantly witness an increased visibility of black visual artists and the re emergence of black art in contemporary life.

Such a history demonstrates its relevance through its ability to permeate the walls of neo postcolonial structures. The recent; Soul of a Nation at Tate Modern, The Place is Here featuring Black British artist’s at South London Gallery. Consideration ought to be given to the recent showcasing of emerging artists of black origin in the diaspora pavilion at the Venice Biennial, which featured the works of Khadija Saye. The fact that she died shortly after exhibiting work which was produced in her studio on the 20th floor of the Grenfell tower block speaks to black histories relevance as her life and work served as a historical commentary and a catalyst for change.

In acknowledging the relevance of Black History it lends itself to share what is going on in countries that have a direct link to, and offer a context for who we have become as Black People in the diaspora. Such histories can be re ignited through community projects that incorporate a multimedia approach to learning such as Voices From the Front Line Railton Road, which engages participants in a culturally specific history by means of oral history and archival delving. The project takes an intergenerational approach to exploring the political and social history of Railton Road, a street contested street that the participants frequently travel. Such projects link past and present discoveries to archives and documents held in archives like those of our partners, GPI, BCA, Autograph, National Archives, and Lambeth Archives. Other high level strategies that are actively working at the grass roots level, which are implemented locally and globally through workshop facilitators and leaders from Kori, Ubele, Daughters of Africa, ArtFarm and the Vessel are all programmes that focus on the development of community through responding to the relevance of history in order to initiate and active change.

An interest explored through my own research and arts practice interrogates the many migrant youth who travel from Africa – the Gambia clandestinely because they construct a history that is currently unfolding. These narratives will come to describe the journeys of many Africans in Europe. Being able to make sense of these migrant journeys makes Black history an important means to explain what was at stake throughout the existence of a people. Therefore, the ongoing renditions of contemporary life of black people which can map links and threads to yesterday continue to make Black History a relevant and going discourse.