By Jeannie Robinson
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The Meaning of Style

This article is over 12 years, 5 months old
New Art Exchange, Nottingham; Until 10 April
Issue 345

Through photographs, paintings and a sound installation, the experience of young black men in Britain over the past 40 years is explored in these highly political exhibitions.

The highlight is the sound installation by Tahera Aziz called [re]locate. A large darkened space recreates the atmosphere of Well Hall Road, south east London, on the night when Stephen Lawrence was murdered in a totally unprovoked racist attack. The relentless noise of the traffic is intercut with voices from the evening: Stephen Lawrence and his friend Duwayne Brooks, their racist assailants and the police officers. There are just snippets of conversations. This disjuncture adds to the menace and impact of the piece. We are invited to stand witness to the events. White racist thugs are on the move again in our society and this is an excellent reminder of the need to get organised.

The photographer Vanley Burke stands out. He shows an amazing archive of photographs of young black people, mainly men, in Birmingham from the early 1970s to today. The early ones show them in the park, in the youth club, in the street, making music or just hanging out. Shifts in dress codes and music styles are interesting to observe, but for me these images shine with defiance. They show the determination of a generation to make a mark on British society and be proud to be black. There are a few photographs of demonstrations from the 1970s against racism in Britain and imperialism in Africa. His more recent colour photographs of families mourning the victims of gang culture stand in stark contrast.

Clement Cooper and Michael Forbes have photographs from the 1980s to today, which, alongside the portraits of Jamaican youth by Gerald Hanson, show how globalised the clothes, the brands and music of black youth have become.

Finally, I was very moved by the paintings of Barbara Walker. She explores the experience of her son, who has been repeatedly stopped and searched by police in London. She paints his portrait against a large backdrop of “receipts” given to him by the police after these searches. This has been the constant experience of black youth from the hated “sus” laws of the 1970s up to the present. She also paints large, intimate portraits of the back of his head, an unusual point of view and very poignant.

The sound installation will be moving to London and Liverpool later in the year and may be available for use in schools.

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