As Covid-19 lockdown restrictions ease in the UK, a new art exhibition in London is shining a light on lesser-known aspects of Black history.
The exhibition is presented by England rugby player Maro Itoje whose love of African art was formed by regular trips to Nigeria, the country of his parents’ birth. Itoje grew up in London but has always felt a strong connection to his Nigerian ancestry.
Rugby star Maro Itoje is presenting “A History Untold.” Credit: Soapbox London/Signature African Art
The inspiration for this exhibition came from Itoje’s personal experience of being taught Black history in UK schools, which he says left out much of Africa’s rich heritage.
“The African history that was taught, it focused around the transatlantic slave trade, a little bit on colonialism, and a little bit on Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement in America,” said Itoje.
“Whilst all those areas are important parts of history, they tell a single story with regards to Africa and African history and a story that only paints not even a quarter of the picture.”
Itoje believes “art can speak to people and communicate to people in ways other forms cannot.”
Origins of mathematics
Anderson selected new works from six African and diaspora artists that highlight some of Africa’s contributions to the fields of metallurgy, writing, music and mathematics.
The 10 cm long bone is thought to have come from a mammal and has a series of notches along it, suggesting it could have been used as a tally stick. Discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1950, it dates back approximately 20,000 years.
“Some say those ancient Congolese civilizations used the bone through its markings to represent prime numbers or the lunar cycle,” Anderson said.
“OJO-OGUN” (Blacksmith), by Steve Ekpenisi. Credit: Steve Ekpenisi/Signature African Art
Multi-media artist Giggs Kgole transports the viewer back to Sophiatown, a suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa, famous as a Black cultural hub in the 1950s. His four digital collages include a celebration of notable South African jazz musicians Hugh Masekela and Oliver Mtukudzi.
“A Crime Against Humanity,” by Giggs Kgole. Credit: Giggs Kgole/Signature African Art
Kgole’s painting “Creeping Back From Sophiatown” was inspired by his parents’ stories of sneaking out to listen to jazz during night curfews in the apartheid era.
“I was just wondering, why would one put themselves in so much danger just to listen to jazz music? And then I listened to jazz and I could feel my soul being enlightened, I could feel happiness and love,” Kgole said.
Through the exhibition Kgole is aiming to show people that South African history goes beyond the common narrative of “Mandela and apartheid and suffering.”
“Without the beauty of Black history and culture we wouldn’t be the people that we are,” he said.
“A History Untold” is being shown at the Signature African Art gallery in London from May 20 to June 19, 2021.