John Akomfrah CBE, ‘The Unfinished Conversation’ 2012
John Akomfrah CBE, The Unfinished Conversation 2012 . Tate . © John Akomfrah / Smoking Dogs Films

Room 15 in Walk Through British Art

Sixty Years: The Unfinished Conversation

Untitled from the series Reflections of the Black Experience

Sunil Gupta, Untitled from the series Reflections of the Black Experience  1986, printed 2010

Gupta was an active figure in the cultural politics of London in the 1980s, notably through the British Black Arts movement and Autograph ABP (Association of Black Photographers). In his photographs he explores the identity of people who are marginalised due to their race, sexuality or country of origin. Coronet Cinema, Notting Hill Gate is an autobiographical image. It shows a couple (Gupta and his white lover) posing outside a cinema advertising the 1985 film My Beautiful Laundrette, the story of a romance between a south Asian man and a white man.

Gallery label, September 2018

© Sunil Gupta

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Anthony Lam, Untitled from the series Notes from the Street  1994

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Bandele ‘Tex’ Ajetunmobi, Members’ Club, Whitechapel, London  1950s, printed 2012

This is one of a group of black and white photographs in Tate’s collection by Bandele Ajetunmobi – widely known as ‘Tex’ – in which he documented immigrant communities in the East End of London in the 1950s and 1960s, often focusing on the multi-racial nature of the area. The two photographs entitled Members’ Club, Whitechapel, London (Tate P14368 and P14370) date from the 1950s and are early documents of a multi-cultural London in the post-war years, at a time when a growing number of men and women were immigrating to Britain from the former colonies. They depict a musician and a mixed ethnicity couple in a club in the Whitechapel area, where many immigrants from the Caribbean settled. These types of venues were shaped by and for black people, but from the start were also frequented by white people. As the art historian Kobena Mercer has noted, in Britain ‘the nightlife surrounding black music was always a cross-cultural affair’ (Mercer 2012, p.15).

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James Barnor, Mike Eghan at the BBC Studios, London  1967, printed 2010

This is one of a group of black and white and colour photographs in Tate’s collection taken by James Barnor in the 1960s (Tate P13419–P13421, P13484, P14381–P14384). Barnor’s portraiture played a key role in documenting black women and men who, in the post-war period, had immigrated to Britain from African countries and were establishing their identity as British. His photographs include images of unnamed subjects, such the two smartly-dressed women in Wedding Guests, London 1960s who pose in front of one of the classic British telephone boxes designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, presumably on their way to a wedding. Other portraits feature public figures, such as the radio journalist Mike Eghan, host of a popular Ghanaian talk show aired on the BBC (Mike Eghan at BBC Studios, London 1967 and Mike Eghan at Piccadilly Circus, London 1967). One image documents the visit of American boxing legend Muhammad Ali to London in 1966, showing Ali training in advance of a fight (Muhammad Ali Training, Earl’s Court, London 1966). A number of shots feature portraits of ‘cover girls’ that were originally published as covers for the magazine Drum, a publication originally from South Africa (Drum Cover Girl Erlin Ibreck at Trafalgar Square, London 1966, Drum Cover Girl Erlin Ibreck, London 1966). In Drum Cover Girl Erlin Ibreck at Trafalgar Square, London the model poses at one of London’s most iconic sites; in Drum Cover Girl Erlin Ibreck, London she stands in a London street, leaning against a car. These photographs capture the mood and fashion of London’s ‘swinging Sixties’, as well as the aspiration of Black immigrants to integrate into British society.

© James Barnor

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Raphael Albert, Hammersmith, London  1970s, printed 2012

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The Wedding

R.B. Kitaj, The Wedding  1989–93

This painting depicts the wedding of Kitaj and the American artist Sandra Fisher (1947-94) which took place in 1983, some six years before this painting was begun. The couple first met in Los Angeles, where Kitaj was teaching. Upon his return to London in 1972, they became reacquainted. Kitaj wrote the following text to accompany the painting's exhibition in the 1994 Tate Gallery retrospective: Sandra and I were married in the beautiful old Sephardic Synagogue founded in London by Rembrandt's friend, Menasseh ben Israel. Under the chupa (canopy), aside from my children and the Rabbi in top hat, Freud is on the left, Auerbach in the middle, then Sandra and me, and Hockney (best man) is to the right of us. Kossoff appears at the far right, transcribed from a drawing by John Lessore. I worked on the painting for years and never learned how to finish it even though painter friends, including most of those in the picture, gave me good advice about it which I took up and changed things all the time. In the end, instead of finishing it, I finished with it and gave it away to a deserving old friend. The Bevis Marks Synagogue in the City of London belongs to the congregation of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews, and was founded in 1700. The painting synthesises various moments which occurred during the ceremony. The artist, on the right side, wears the traditional shawl of Jewish bridegrooms, and leans forward to embrace the bride. On the left, wearing a top hat, is the Rabbi Abraham Levy, his face partially obscured. Kitaj's three children are also portrayed: his elder son Lem, his adopted daughter Dominie as a bridesmaid in a white sari, and Max, whose head rises from the lower edge of the canvas and who was not actually at the ceremony. (The son of Kitaj and Sandra, Max was born a year after the marriage.)Kitaj has described Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon as 'the most important influence' on this picture, 'not a source but a hovering presence' (unpublished Board note presented to Tate Gallery Trustees, July 1993). The Wedding brings together several crucial themes in Kitaj's art and thought, including his increasing awareness of his identity as a Jew. The prominent depiction of several of the so-called 'School of London' artists relates to Kitaj's identification of these artists as part of a group of painters who were linked by friendship, their response to great masters, their emphasis on drawing and their concern with the human subject.Further reading:
Richard Morphet (ed.), R.B. Kitaj: A Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery 1994, p.221, reproduced p.211 in colourTerry Riggs
October 1997

© The estate of R. B. Kitaj

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Lisa & Emily, London

Sunil Gupta, Lisa & Emily, London  1984, printed 2018

This is one of a group of photographs in Tate’s collection from Sunil Gupta’s Lovers: Ten Years On, a series of over thirty black and white portraits of gay couples taken in the United Kingdom between 1984 and 1986 (Tate P82123–P82137 and Ian and Julian P13784). With the exception of Martin & Gary, Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1984 (Tate P82123), they were all taken in London. Lovers: Ten Years On was made after Gupta’s own ten-year relationship ended and, as a form of social analysis, he decided to document the long-term gay relationships he encountered and the changing sensibilities of the social environment he found himself a part of. Most of the subjects are from his own social milieu at the time, professional couples resident in the Greater London area. Taken over a period of two years, the black and white portraits all follow the same format – they are shot in domestic interiors, the poses and arrangements reminiscent of traditional family photographs. The subjects are centred in the frame and look directly into the camera. Most of the couples are shown in affectionate poses and embraces within their domestic settings; some included their pets in the picture, others chose to be depicted in front of works of art in their living rooms, surrounded by books, or in their kitchens.
The series was accompanied by an artist’s statement, in which Gupta observed that while there had been a shift in gay self-consciousness since the 1970s, the arrival of HIV and Aids had once again turned public opinion against the acceptance of homosexuality, and that its popular and commercial representations were dominated by a stereotype of deviance. In contrast, the couples in Lovers: Ten Years On are shown as often quite ordinary, white middle-class, professional people in long term monogamous relationships. Gupta wrote:

© Sunil Gupta

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Larry Achiampong, Glyth Series 2 #2  2018

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Zachary II

Winston Branch, Zachary II  1982

© Winston Branch

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Standing Figure with African Masks

Claudette Johnson, Standing Figure with African Masks  2018

To create this work Johnson drew herself using a small mirror on a low chair. She gazes directly down on us, at an angle that heightens her confident stance. She has said, ‘I’m interested in giving space to Blackwomen presence. A presence which has been distorted, hidden and denied.’ The masked figures in the background reclaim the often unacknowledged inspiration of African art on white Western artists. By referring to the masks as ‘African’, Johnson draws attention to art history’s failure to record the names, or even the nationalities of the artists of these influential works.

Gallery label, December 2020

© Claudette Johnson

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Ajamu, Self-portrait in Wedding Dress 2  1993

© Ajamu X

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Two Boys during Eid, Spitafields, London

Anthony Lam, Two Boys during Eid, Spitafields, London  1994

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Flamingo cover girl Sarah with friend, London

James Barnor, Flamingo cover girl Sarah with friend, London  c.1965, printed 2010

This is one of a group of black and white and colour photographs in Tate’s collection taken by James Barnor in the 1960s (Tate P13419–P13421, P13484, P14381–P14384). Barnor’s portraiture played a key role in documenting black women and men who, in the post-war period, had immigrated to Britain from African countries and were establishing their identity as British. His photographs include images of unnamed subjects, such the two smartly-dressed women in Wedding Guests, London 1960s who pose in front of one of the classic British telephone boxes designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, presumably on their way to a wedding. Other portraits feature public figures, such as the radio journalist Mike Eghan, host of a popular Ghanaian talk show aired on the BBC (Mike Eghan at BBC Studios, London 1967 and Mike Eghan at Piccadilly Circus, London 1967). One image documents the visit of American boxing legend Muhammad Ali to London in 1966, showing Ali training in advance of a fight (Muhammad Ali Training, Earl’s Court, London 1966). A number of shots feature portraits of ‘cover girls’ that were originally published as covers for the magazine Drum, a publication originally from South Africa (Drum Cover Girl Erlin Ibreck at Trafalgar Square, London 1966, Drum Cover Girl Erlin Ibreck, London 1966). In Drum Cover Girl Erlin Ibreck at Trafalgar Square, London the model poses at one of London’s most iconic sites; in Drum Cover Girl Erlin Ibreck, London she stands in a London street, leaning against a car. These photographs capture the mood and fashion of London’s ‘swinging Sixties’, as well as the aspiration of Black immigrants to integrate into British society.

© James Barnor

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Raphael Albert, Holley posing at Blythe Road, London  c.1974, printed 2012

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James Barnor, Wedding Guests, London  1960s, printed 2010

This is one of a group of black and white and colour photographs in Tate’s collection taken by James Barnor in the 1960s (Tate P13419–P13421, P13484, P14381–P14384). Barnor’s portraiture played a key role in documenting black women and men who, in the post-war period, had immigrated to Britain from African countries and were establishing their identity as British. His photographs include images of unnamed subjects, such the two smartly-dressed women in Wedding Guests, London 1960s who pose in front of one of the classic British telephone boxes designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, presumably on their way to a wedding. Other portraits feature public figures, such as the radio journalist Mike Eghan, host of a popular Ghanaian talk show aired on the BBC (Mike Eghan at BBC Studios, London 1967 and Mike Eghan at Piccadilly Circus, London 1967). One image documents the visit of American boxing legend Muhammad Ali to London in 1966, showing Ali training in advance of a fight (Muhammad Ali Training, Earl’s Court, London 1966). A number of shots feature portraits of ‘cover girls’ that were originally published as covers for the magazine Drum, a publication originally from South Africa (Drum Cover Girl Erlin Ibreck at Trafalgar Square, London 1966, Drum Cover Girl Erlin Ibreck, London 1966). In Drum Cover Girl Erlin Ibreck at Trafalgar Square, London the model poses at one of London’s most iconic sites; in Drum Cover Girl Erlin Ibreck, London she stands in a London street, leaning against a car. These photographs capture the mood and fashion of London’s ‘swinging Sixties’, as well as the aspiration of Black immigrants to integrate into British society.

© James Barnor

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Bandele ‘Tex’ Ajetunmobi, Couple Kissing, Whitechapel, London  c.1960s, printed 2012

This is one of a group of black and white photographs in Tate’s collection by Bandele Ajetunmobi – widely known as ‘Tex’ – in which he documented immigrant communities in the East End of London in the 1950s and 1960s, often focusing on the multi-racial nature of the area. The two photographs entitled Members’ Club, Whitechapel, London (Tate P14368 and P14370) date from the 1950s and are early documents of a multi-cultural London in the post-war years, at a time when a growing number of men and women were immigrating to Britain from the former colonies. They depict a musician and a mixed ethnicity couple in a club in the Whitechapel area, where many immigrants from the Caribbean settled. These types of venues were shaped by and for black people, but from the start were also frequented by white people. As the art historian Kobena Mercer has noted, in Britain ‘the nightlife surrounding black music was always a cross-cultural affair’ (Mercer 2012, p.15).

© reserved

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Les Bijoux VIII

Maud Sulter, Les Bijoux VIII  2002

Les Bijoux 2002 is a series of photographs that comprises nine large-scale Polaroids of equal size that present a sequence of performative self-portraits by the British artist Maud Sulter. Adopting a similar posture in each image, the artist appears dressed in various lavish gowns and jewellery set against a black studio background. The works are numbered sequentially with Roman numerals, although they can be displayed separately and in any order. In seven of the images, Sulter looks directly at the camera while in two (numbers II, Tate P82548, and VIII, Tate P82554) she appears in profile. Her face presents a subtle array of dignified emotions, from desire to grief, and in two of the images (numbers III, Tate P82549, and VII, Tate P82553) she tugs at her necklace as if to break it. Made using a large-format Polaroid camera, the raw edges of the prints are left visible and the photographs’ white margins are muddied with residue from the Polaroid instant printing process.

© Estate of Maud Sulter / DACS 2021, All rights reserved

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Les Bijoux I

Maud Sulter, Les Bijoux I  2002

Les Bijoux 2002 is a series of photographs that comprises nine large-scale Polaroids of equal size that present a sequence of performative self-portraits by the British artist Maud Sulter. Adopting a similar posture in each image, the artist appears dressed in various lavish gowns and jewellery set against a black studio background. The works are numbered sequentially with Roman numerals, although they can be displayed separately and in any order. In seven of the images, Sulter looks directly at the camera while in two (numbers II, Tate P82548, and VIII, Tate P82554) she appears in profile. Her face presents a subtle array of dignified emotions, from desire to grief, and in two of the images (numbers III, Tate P82549, and VII, Tate P82553) she tugs at her necklace as if to break it. Made using a large-format Polaroid camera, the raw edges of the prints are left visible and the photographs’ white margins are muddied with residue from the Polaroid instant printing process.

© Estate of Maud Sulter / DACS 2021, All rights reserved

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Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Abiku (Born to Die)  1988, printed c.1988

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So Much I Want to Say

Mona Hatoum, So Much I Want to Say  1983

Born into a Palestinian family in Beirut, and now resident in London, Hatoum often addresses themes of identity and exile in her work. This video consists of still images of her face in close-up, with a pair of male hands covering her mouth which prevent her from speaking. 'My work is about my experience of living in the West as a person from the Third World, about being an outsider, about occupying a marginal position, being excluded, being defined as 'Other' or as one of 'Them', Hatoum has said.

Gallery label, November 2006

© Mona Hatoum

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Lancelot Ribeiro, Cityscape (Night)  1963

© Lancelot Ribeiro Estate

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Northern Nigerian Landscape

Uzo Egonu, Northern Nigerian Landscape  1964

Northern Nigerian Landscape 1964 is an oil painting on board, painted in London, that dates from the early period of Nigerian-born artist Uzo Egonu’s career. During the early 1960s Egonu made a number of works, such as this one, which combined a modernist approach to painting with his childhood memories and a nostalgia for Nigeria through references to the Nigerian landscape, vernacular architecture and local traditions. This painting is an abstracted rendition of a northern Nigerian village. The perspective has been flattened and the rounded huts stacked on top of each other are outlined with black. Winding lines that could variously represent the limbs of a tree, paths or rivers divide the painting into distinct parts that are then filled in with decorative designs. Overall the palette is subdued and the shades of brown, olive green, ochre and cobalt blue recall the natural environment.

© The estate of Uzo Egonu

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Helen Cammock, Changing Room  2014

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Larry Achiampong, Integer #3  2015

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Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Abiku (Born to Die)  1988, printed c.1988

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Ajamu, Body Builder in Bra  1990

© Ajamu X

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Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Abiku (Born to Die)  1988, printed c.1988

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Donald Locke, Untitled  1993

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Eva, London

James Barnor, Eva, London  1960s, printed 2010

This is one of a group of black and white and colour photographs in Tate’s collection taken by James Barnor in the 1960s (Tate P13419–P13421, P13484, P14381–P14384). Barnor’s portraiture played a key role in documenting black women and men who, in the post-war period, had immigrated to Britain from African countries and were establishing their identity as British. His photographs include images of unnamed subjects, such the two smartly-dressed women in Wedding Guests, London 1960s who pose in front of one of the classic British telephone boxes designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, presumably on their way to a wedding. Other portraits feature public figures, such as the radio journalist Mike Eghan, host of a popular Ghanaian talk show aired on the BBC (Mike Eghan at BBC Studios, London 1967 and Mike Eghan at Piccadilly Circus, London 1967). One image documents the visit of American boxing legend Muhammad Ali to London in 1966, showing Ali training in advance of a fight (Muhammad Ali Training, Earl’s Court, London 1966). A number of shots feature portraits of ‘cover girls’ that were originally published as covers for the magazine Drum, a publication originally from South Africa (Drum Cover Girl Erlin Ibreck at Trafalgar Square, London 1966, Drum Cover Girl Erlin Ibreck, London 1966). In Drum Cover Girl Erlin Ibreck at Trafalgar Square, London the model poses at one of London’s most iconic sites; in Drum Cover Girl Erlin Ibreck, London she stands in a London street, leaning against a car. These photographs capture the mood and fashion of London’s ‘swinging Sixties’, as well as the aspiration of Black immigrants to integrate into British society.

© James Barnor

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Raphael Albert, The Golden Chip, Hammersmith, London  c.1970, printed 2012

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Art in this room

Untitled from the series Reflections of the Black Experience
Sunil Gupta Untitled from the series Reflections of the Black Experience 1986, printed 2010

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Anthony Lam Untitled from the series Notes from the Street 1994
Members’ Club, Whitechapel, London
Bandele ‘Tex’ Ajetunmobi Members’ Club, Whitechapel, London 1950s, printed 2012
Mike Eghan at the BBC Studios, London
James Barnor Mike Eghan at the BBC Studios, London 1967, printed 2010
Hammersmith, London
Raphael Albert Hammersmith, London 1970s, printed 2012
The Wedding
R.B. Kitaj The Wedding 1989–93

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