Press Release

BP British Art Displays 1500-2006: Seeing Africa

BP British Art Displays 1500-2006: Seeing Africa: Press related to past displays.

Tate Britain  Room 18
22 July – 29 October 2006

A new BP British Art Display of paintings and sculptures that focuses on representations of Africa and Africans, Seeing Africa, opens at Tate Britain on 24 July. This is the first public display of works from a remarkable private collection which concentrates on the genre known in continental Europe as ‘Africaniste’.  While most works are by French and Belgian artists, ‘Africanisme’ provides a new context in which we might see the painting of black subjects by such British artists as Dod Procter.

Seeing Africa includes around 35 works by both successful and unknown artists.  The earliest work on show dates from the 1870s with the latest from the 1950s.  The majority of works date from the interwar years. They cover a diverse range of subjects and styles including landscapes (which often focus on river views); paintings of village life; depictions of traditional tribal dress and practices; and the nude – especially but not exclusively the female nude.

The display raises an important debate about representation and meaning, seeing and power. As with all images – but perhaps especially so – these paintings and sculptures can be read in a variety of ways. For example, the collector of these works sees them as positive images of Africa and its inhabitants as a counter to the prevalence of negative representations. Conversely, others might see such images as implicitly imperialistic in their objectification and eroticising of the human form, or idealistically romantic in the representations of fading lifestyles set against a history of imperialism. A debate around these issues will be suggested in the display itself by the provision of three different voices commenting on the works and will be expanded on the Tate website and through special events at Tate Britain.

The display and the associated debate will be supported by a special microsite on Tate’s website. There a further 35 images will be available and will provide a forum for a broader discussion.

The display is curated by Dr. Chris Stephens, Head of Displays, Tate Britain and Mike Phillips, Cross Cultural Curator, Tate Britain. All of the works are generously loaned from the private collection of Freddie Booker-Carson and Simon Carson. A purpose-built museum housing their Africaniste collection, Primi Moda,opens on 1 September 2006 in Washington D.C. This is, therefore, a rare opportunity to view these works in Britain and to engage with the issues they raise.

Seeing Africa is supported by BP as part of its sponsorship of the BP British Art Displays. BP has supported Collection Displays at Millbank since 1991, first at the Tate Gallery and then from the opening of Tate Britain in 2000 to the present. BP’s continued support allows Tate Britain to create a broad and dynamic displays programme which explores in depth British art from 1500 to the present.