Engagement with black history in the UK is set to take place all year round, an artist has said as a new piece of digital artwork is released in London.
The initiative, called Anti-Apartheid, Now, is part of efforts by the Anti-Apartheid Legacy Center for Learning & Memory to teach Londoners about the legacy of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and the role of the Kingdom – United within it.
He has commissioned seven artists, all of whom reside in the UK but come from global majority backgrounds, which he defines as people of black, brown, Asian, dual or mixed descent, indigenous to the global south and/or those who have been racialized as an “ethnic minority”.
Currently being redeveloped by Liliesleaf Trust UK, the center plans to open in April 2024 to coincide with the 30e anniversary of the first democratic elections in South Africa.
The work launched this month, titled “Umfazi, Owesifazane, Vrou!” focuses on the role of lesser-known women in Africa in the anti-apartheid movement.
Artist Tina Ramos Ekongo spoke to the Evening Standard about the women she chose to portray: “Normally, women are at home cooking and taking care of children. We have the right to vote, we have a say in what happens in our countries. But I think the way these women changed things or the way Western society saw them helped a lot. For example, Winnie Mandela raised his voice.
“Everyone knows her in South Africa, a very strong woman, and to have this role at that time is incredible. I grew up in Africa and was told that being an artist was not really a good choice I’m the opposite – I’m outspoken, I’m an artist and I fight for women’s rights. They have a specific role in the anti-apartheid movement. I didn’t want to do western black figures but African black figures .
Tina, a Spanish-Equatorial Guinean who lives in the North West of England, heard about the project through an Instagram post and decided to represent five black and brown female activists.
Her portraits are of Amina Cachalia, Annie Silinga, Winnie Madikizela Mandela, Rahima Moosa and Ida Mntwana, painted on cardboard, which she says reflects the (mis)representation of black women in the mainstream.
“The idea is to have the African fabric in the background. I use cardboard because when I first started painting on it I felt black women were misrepresented in media and art so to me painting them on material you can throw away is rubbish , but I give value to the material by painting black women on it. So it’s the opposite view,” she said.
Her portraits are in mixed acrylic, African fabric and collage on cardboard, and the women depicted wearing clothing and accessories, to distinguish them as “beautiful and resilient black women”, who may have been undervalued in the western societies.
While the seven artists who were commissioned did not require extensive knowledge of the anti-apartheid movement, the project’s producer, Matthew Hanh, helps them ensure their work informs the story it responds to.
The first piece, released earlier this year, responded to the bombing of Penton Street, which was the headquarters of the African National Congress Party.
Caroline Kamana, Director of Liliesleaf Trust UK, said: “The creative response addresses both heritage and ongoing contemporary societal issues. And most importantly, connecting that to lived experience, which Tina touched on. Tina’s commission will be launched this month.
“His commission’s brief was published with a mention of Black History Month, but the word ‘Month’ was crossed out because we wholeheartedly believe that black history is fundamentally part of history. of each and should be celebrated more broadly than on a specific month.”
We juxtapose the release date with the premise that there should be 365 days a year to engage with black heritage in the UK. Tina’s response was exceptionally strong.
“We felt that highlighting women in particular who were part of the struggle was a really important and necessary thing to do because traditionally women’s voices have either been erased or left out of the narrative of this story. We were even more excited about the particular women Tina offered to focus her work on. Some of the stories have never been widely heard, certainly in the British context, or have been twisted.
Caroline hopes that the project, alongside the centre’s other activities, opens a doorway for people to learn and reflect on this history: “There are certainly a disproportionate number of opportunities, especially for young people, to explore women’s role models within the struggle against apartheid.
“One of the goals of this project, and Tina’s in particular, is to provide resources as a springboard for conversations to happen.”
“We want to encourage young people to look wider and beyond the usual figures that appear at this time of year, and not diminish them in any way, but the figures of Mary Seacole and Rosa Parks, who are role models fantastic, but perhaps they are very often advertised as people to study, while we would like to raise the profile of the women who were of fundamental importance in their contributions to the fight against apartheid and whose stories do not were not heard.
The group has also worked with young people from Upward Bound, a successful and aspiring Saturday school run by Islington Council, London Metropolitan University and graphic design organization Penificent, to co-create comics about the struggle .
“They had very little knowledge of the anti-apartheid struggle because it is not taught in schools as part of the regular school curriculum, which is partly due to the colonial overhangs of the history curriculum,” Caroline said. .
The project team monitors its progress through surveys and focus groups. It is publicly funded by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, the Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust and Islington Borough’s Initiative Fund.
Tina’s works can be found here.