by Alain Chivilò
The writer and civil right activist James Baldwin (New York 2/8/1924 / Saint-Paul-de-Vence 1/12/1987) in his examination of the black person (without using the term of the American era) between non-fiction, fiction and theatre, placed the word salvation at the center of one of his well-known aphorisms: “There is never time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment; the time is always now”.
Starting from this theme, the curator Ekow Eshun thought the title of the collective exhibition conceived to explore and ask questions about the black body and its representation and visualization.
“The Time is Always Now: Artists Reframe the Black Figure” collects and unites 55 works of drawing, painting and sculpture by artists such as Claudette Johnson, Barbara Walker, Lubaina Himid, Kimathi Donkor, Titus Kaphar, Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Jordan Casteel, Godfried Donkor, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Thomas J Price, Michael Armitage, Lorna Simpson, Hurvin Anderson, Henry Taylor, Kerry James Marshall, Amy Sherald, Wangechi Mutu, Jennifer Packer, Chris Ofili, Noah Davis, Denzil Forrester.
There are three sections of the exhibition, all aimed at providing an in-depth examination of black figuration in black-skinned artists: Double Consciousness, Persistence of History and Kinship and Connection.
As highlighted Ekow Eshun: “The Time is Always Now celebrates a period of extraordinary flourishing in the work of artists from the African diaspora. My hope is that the exhibition encourages audiences to look more closely at the imaginative reach of the exhibiting artists; the ways they are illuminating the richness and complexity of Black life through figuration, and simultaneously asking searching questions about race, identity and history. All while creating artworks that are never less than dazzling”.
Along works from 2000 until now, between contaminations and personal research, in a certain sense, the black figure is placed as the main subject through multiple artistic elaborations.
The exhibition will start in a section born from the theory conceived by the African American sociologist William Edward Burghardt Du Bois present in The Souls of Black Folk (1903): “Double Consciousness”. It means to a source of inward ‘twoness’ putatively experienced by African-Americans because of their racialized oppression and disvaluation in a white-dominated society. In the opening show, the artworks selected investigate different concepts such as belonging, being and Blackness as a psychological state. The title, after 120 years, will highlight how artists see themselves, be seen, exist and be framed between possible real and virtual dimensions. Situations today that can also arise from a lack of contact and direct communication.
Without anticipating too much what can be seen in the different rooms, in the first section there are artists such as Lorna Simpson, Thomas J Price, Noah Davis, Michael Armitage, Kerry James Marshall, Wangechi Mutu.
Walking to the second one, Persistence of History, the works on show will try to go in deep through concepts of through concepts of removal, forgetfulness, depersonification, lack of identity, covered-up historical facts, loss of certain coordinates, elevation in artists such as Godfried Donkor, Titus Kaphar, Lubaina Himid, Barbara Walker, Kimathi Donkor.
The last section, “The Time is Always Now” si muove tra Kinship and Connection, segregazione ma anche connessioni e gioiosità nelle perosne nere. Artisi quali Jordan Casteel, Denzil Forrester, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Henry Taylor, Hurvin Anderson, Toyin Ojih Odutola.
As final interaction to end the exhibition’s section, visitors will themselves be invited to gather together, conecting with each other and the artworks around them, sitting within a specially constructed structure at the centre of the space.
The Time is Always Now: Artists Reframe the Black Figure. London, National Portrait Gallery. From 22 February to 19 May 2024.
©AC, NDSL, AM, Alain Chivilo