Identity, race, who you are, what you do, why you do what you do, and who you see yourself as are aspects of what make up who you are. There might be one factor that accounts for most of what you see yourself as; you may not see any specific ‘thing’ that plays a defining role in your life. Some people may never think of such issues. However, for most these and other topics are at the forefront, whether wanted to not. October makes room for the experiences of black individuals, specifically, through what is a month of recognition, celebration, and understanding allowing for such topics to be brought to the surface.
Through a collaborative effort, HuffPost UK and IPG Mediabrands have created an arts contest to honor and celebration Black History Month to highlight what black Britishness means to individuals in the UK. ‘Portrayals of Blackness’ seeks to show what life is for black individuals in the UK and how individuals push back against a white-washed normative. Micha Frazer-Carroll delivers a stunning synopsis of ideas surrounding blackness in the UK in her HuffPost article announcing the contest. Though her expression of blackness is by no means monolithic, it sets the tone for what the contest is looking for.
‘Portrayals of Blackness’ is focused on experience and identity through the everyday perspective of black individuals in the UK. The ten winning artworks, now displayed in IPG’s Clerkenwell, London office create a small exhibition subtitled ‘Living Colour’ showing what black Britishness is for ten individuals. While their experience may not be the exact same as another person of color’s, they touch on common grounds. The paintings, photographs, and illustrations concern family, ambition, hair, sexuality, gender identity, love, immigration, fashion, and many other topics that reflect the lives of the artists.
Highlighted works from ‘Living Colour’
A striking example from the selected works is by Bristol-born digital illustrator, Parys Gardener. Lady Like pictures a woman of color lounging in a chair as she faces the viewer, face on. Her expression is one of power as she commands your attention. Her short hair and the gap in her teeth grate against social norms of beauty but she is that: beauty. But you get the sense that she doesn’t look at you for your mark of approval.
Another finalist is a portrait simply titled Abby. The photo, by Naomi Maxwell, tells the story of common ground found through similar life stories and the joy and love that came from them. The photo shows the kind of interaction you might have on a regular Tuesday afternoon but it is impossible to ignore the joy present in the photo.
The stories told through the artworks highlighted in ‘Portrayals of Blackness’ express some ideas of blackness in the UK. They start a conversation about blackness in a month meant to celebrate all that is blackness and the artworks do so in a beautiful manner.
You can find the all the artworks displayed in ‘Living Colour’, though, here and they will be on display throughout October.