A History Untold
From 20 May to 19 June 2021, Signature African Art, London will present A History Untold exploring Black histories absent from the UK school curriculum, presented in partnership with England International Rugby player Maro Itoje and curated by Lisa Anderson. As a strong advocate for education and the Black curriculum, Itoje was inspired by his personal experience of schooling on Black history.
A History Untold features new work by six African and diasporan artists. These works celebrate Black history as well as the contributions of Black figures to civilisation and society across the centuries. From the origins of mathematics to jazz, the exhibition reveals lesser-known stories and addresses the oversimplified history of colonialism in the current system through a post-colonial lens.
Itoje explains, “Throughout my time in school I learnt very little about Africa and Black history and it was only upon leaving formal education that I began to discover the colossal contribution it has had to the world we live in today. By celebrating Black history and the Black contribution to society, A History Untold aims to underline the importance of including more Black history on the British national curriculum so young people growing up have a wider and more informed view of the world, breaking down biases that currently exist.”
Presented across both floors of the gallery, A History Untold features works by African artists—Giggs Kgole, Djakou Kassi Nathalie, Steve Ekpenisi, and Damilola Okhoya—on the top floor, and an immersive installation featuring sculpture and sound by British-Ghanaian artists Adelaide Damoah, and Peter Adjaye on the ground floor.
According to the curator Lisa Anderson, “It’s never been more urgent to question the history we’ve been taught and consider what we know from different perspectives, in order to disrupt and transform the inequalities that flagrant omissions and mistruths have caused. This show seeks to challenge viewers to adopt a more critical approach to history through the lens of African artists on the continent and the Diaspora, whilst celebrating fundamental fields of knowledge that source their root in Africa.”
Signature African Art will donate 15% of the proceeds generated from the exhibition to local and national community initiatives, including a series of public art projects, which aim to raise awareness of the gaps in the current curriculum. The body of work celebrates an inclusive, post-colonial historical education by telling stories from multiple African and African Diaspora perspectives. Giggs Kgole, known for his engaging 3D artworks, explores the role South African jazz played in shaping communities such as the Black cultural hub Sophiatown, which was destroyed under apartheid and eventually rebuilt; Kgole transports viewers to the town, creating a 3D musical scene using collage which brings to life South African jazz legends Oliver Mtukudzi and Hugh Masekela; and Djakou Kassi Nathalie shares the story of Africa’s contribution to mathematics through the Ishango bone, one of the oldest mathematical artefacts to be discovered which dates back to the Upper Palaeolithic period of human history over 20,000 years ago. The skilled ceramicist, Nathalie has created a clay sculpture of the bone comprising traditional African masks and surrounded by dice for this exhibition.
Also, the contemporary sculptor, Steve Ekpenisi who embraces metal and discarded objects as a primary medium, highlights the significance of African metallurgy which is believed to have forged the path for the Industrial Revolution. Ekpenisi portrays a 4-foot-tall sculpture of an African blacksmith in the process of making iron. Multidisciplinary artist Damilola Okhoya reveals the final untold African story, focusing on the theme of the power of paper. Okhoya’s work examines Queen Amanirenas and the Meroitic script – one of the oldest writing systems in Africa – as well as the city of Timbuktu in Mali, formerly a centre of learning and education in the 14th century, which brought students from across the region to its universities and libraries.
Adelaide Damoah and Peter Adjaye’s collaborative work represents an African Diasporic perspective that pays tribute to their shared Ghanaian ancestry. Their multi-media sculptural installation and soundscape take over the entire ground floor of the gallery. The sculpture is formed of a 4.2-metre canvas featuring repeated imagery of Adelaide’s paternal ancestor who lived during the colonial era of the British Gold Coast (present-day Ghana) and fought during World War II. Wrapped around a supporting structure, the sculpture alludes to an ancestral tree, whilst evoking traditional Ghanaian, funerary attire. Adjaye’s immersive six-channel soundscape, a cinematic journey of intrigue and drama featuring ancient west African percussion and dialogue between Adelaide and her father, activates the structure. Combined, these elements powerfully reframe the history of Ghanaian colonialism and African diasporic experience through image and sound, on the artists’ terms.
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