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Black British artists can no longer be ignored, says sculptor Thomas J Price | Black British culture

The British art world can no longer ignore or marginalize black artists, according to sculptor Thomas J Price, who believes black British culture is finally being absorbed into the mainstream.

Price said the large number of exhibitions featuring black British artists – such as Entangled Pasts, Life Between Islands, Get Up, Stand Up Now and In the Black Fantastic – had “set a new standard” for representation , triggered by the Black Lives Matter movement. in 2020.

“The doors have opened so wide that we have been able to discover the breadth and depth of British culture and we cannot close them again. He can’t go back to where he was,” he said.

“It set a new standard that artists have been asking for for so long. Lack of recognition or credit cannot return.

Price is participating in another landmark exhibition, The Time Is Always Now: Artists Reframe the Black Figure. Ekow Eshun’s extensive survey of black art features artists including Claudette Johnson, Amy Sherald, and Kerry James Marshall.

Some of these works have never been seen in the UK, but Price is the only artist to have created a piece specifically for the exhibition. Called As Sounds Turn to Noise, it took a year to make, stands 2.8m (9ft) tall, is made of bronze and was built using 3D printing and hand casting techniques. lost wax.

The character – a young black woman in sportswear with long braids – is an amalgamation of several people Price interviewed while working in downtown Los Angeles.

The enormous work is one of the first people will see when entering the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery and Price says it will immediately confront viewers with their ideas of what a black person can or should look like. “It’s 9 feet tall. She has her hands on her hips and she’s a very powerful character, but there’s an ambiguity with the closed eyes. This allows for vulnerability.

Price said he took inspiration from the Greek goddesses Diana, Athena and Nike when creating As Sounds Turn to Noise and made the sculpture classic. contrapposto or inclined pose. “It’s not about imposing traits or tropes or a very limited understanding of what it means to be a black person,” he said.

The sculptor, best known for Warm Shores, a tribute to the Windrush generation which stands outside Hackney council offices in east London, believes the UK is starting to catch up with the US by recognizing that its history is closely linked to that of its black citizens. .

“We like to pretend we’ve never done anything wrong,” said Price, who believes shows such as The Time Is Always Now demonstrate that the UK’s connection to its history of slavery and colonialism is “undeniable”.

He also believes that the general public now wants shows that reflect a history of which they are increasingly aware. He said the increase in the number of exhibitions of black British art was “a testament to the quality of the work on display and the taste of the general public who increasingly feel they have been cheated”.

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“In art, if you can get people to think, then they are inclined to ask questions. I hope they incorporate this into their daily lives, so when they are told something or a lazy trope is used, they now question it.”

There has been a trend towards recognizing black British artists after many years on the fringes, including Lubaina Himid, Ingrid Pollard, Barbara Walker, Helen Cammock, Veronica Ryan, Liz Johnson Artur, Claudette Johnson and Sonia Boyce, who won the Lion gold at the Venice Biennale.

Price said he was inspired by the generation before him. “Looking at the work of Frank Bowling, or Claudette Johnson, or Sonia Boyce, it’s inspiring to see how they retained their identity, even though they shouldn’t have had to. »

There were false dawns for the recognition of black British art: there were several exhibitions in the mid-to-late 1980s at major institutions, but interest waned. Price thinks this time it’s different. “I’m optimistic but I’m also realistic; the reason I’m optimistic is because I know the quality that’s there.

“The shows were very good and the artists who came proved themselves once again. »

theguardian Gt

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