RIVINGTON PLACE, LONDON. 12 SEPTEMBER – 29 NOVEMBER 2014
The first public showcase for The Missing Chapter project, this groundbreaking exhibition explored black presences in 19th and early 20th-century Britain, through the prism of historical studio portraiture presented as a contemporary gallery installation – continuing Autograph ABP’s critical mission of writing new black photographic history.
Drawing on the metaphor of the chronicle, the exhibition presented over 200 photographs, the majority of which have never been exhibited or published before. As a curated body of work, these photographs offer new knowledge and different ways of seeing the black subject in Victorian Britain, contributing to an ongoing process of redressing persistent ‘absence’ within the historical record.
For the first time, a comprehensive body of portraits depicting black people prior to the beginning of the second world war was brought together in this exhibition – identified through original research carried out in the holdings of national public archives and by examining privately owned collections. This research was inspired by Autograph ABP’s continuous search for the earliest photographic image of a black person created in the UK.
All of the photographs in the exhibition were taken in photographic studios in Britain prior to 1938, with a majority taken during the latter half of the 19th century. Alongside numerous portraits of unidentified sitters, the exhibition includes original prints of known personalities, such as Sarah Forbes Bonetta, goddaughter to Queen Victoria; Prince Alemayehu, photographed by renowned photographer Julia Margaret Cameron; and Kalulu, African ‘boy servant’ (companion) to the British explorer Henry Morton Stanley.
An extensive display of more than 100 original carte-de-visite was drawn from several collections and presented in dialogue with Autograph ABP’s 1996 commission ‘Effnik’ by Yinka Shonibare MBE. A highlight of the show was the dedicated display of thirty portraits of members of The African Choir, who toured Britain between 1891-93, seen here for the first time. Perhaps the most comprehensive series of images rendering the black subject in Victorian Britain, these extraordinary portraits on glass plate negatives by the London Stereoscopic Company had been deeply buried in the Hulton Archive, unopened for over 120 years. Presented alongside those of other visiting performers, dignitaries, servicemen, missionaries, students and many as yet unidentified black Britons, their presence bears direct witness to Britain’s colonial and imperial history and the expansion of Empire.
‘Black Chronicles II’ was dedicated to the memory of the late Professor Stuart Hall (1935-2014), whose words and voice feature in the exhibition prominently. “They are here because you were there. There is an umbilical connection. There is no understanding Englishness without understanding its imperial and colonial dimensions.” Stuart Hall, 2008
Research for Black Chronicles II and The Missing Chapter project is led by Renée Mussai at Autograph ABP; the exhibition was curated by Renée Mussai and Mark Sealy.
Black Chronicles II is produced in collaboration with the Hulton Archive, a division of Getty Images. A digital slide show is presented in partnership with The National Army Museum (NAM). It also features the private collections of Michael Graham-Stewart, Jenny Allsworth, Val Wilmer, and Paul Freckers/The Library of Nineteeth-Century Photography.
PETER JACKSON, 1889 LONDON STEREOSCOPIC COMPANY COURTESY ©HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES
ELEANOR XINIWE, 1891 LONDON STEREOSCOPIC COMPANY COURTESY ©HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES
SLIDER IMAGES 1-3. BLACK CHRONICLES II INSTALLATION SHOT IN PS1, RIVINGTON PLACE | 4. BLACK CHRONICLES II INSTALLATION SHOT RIVINGTON STREET VIEW |