Black Fantasy Is Coming To The Hayward Gallery

Coming to London this Summer, the Hayward Gallery presents In the Black Fantastic, a first-of-its-kind UK exhibition curated by writer, journalist, and curator, Ekow Eshun. With works from 11 contemporary artists from the African diaspora, the exhibition highlights the work of Black artists using fantastical elements in their art to address racism and social injustices, and explore alternative realities.

In the Black Fantastic finds artists drawing from myth, science fiction, folklore, Afrofuturism, and more. In doing so they immerse visitors into a world in-between reality and imagination. There lie alternative realities and possibilities of existence through which the artists can address racism and social injustice. 

Ekow Eshun, Curator of In the Black Fantastic, says: “As a concept, the Black fantastic does not describe a movement or a rigid category so much as a way of seeing shared by artists who grapple with the inequities of racialized contemporary society by conjuring new visions of Black possibility. More than ever Black visual artists, as well as writers, film-makers and musicians, are thinking in boldly imaginative terms in order to explore race and cultural identity in the contemporary era.”

The work of In the Black Fantastic

© Nick Cave. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Mandrake Hotel Collection

The exhibition features works that run the gamut of painting, photography, sculpture, and mixed-media installations. Of particular interest will be a newly-commissioned piece from Nick Cave. A commanding installation, the work features hundreds of cast sculptures of Cave’s own arm, linked together in a chain. A selection of Cave’s Soundsuits – wearable sculptures that the artist started making 30 years ago in the wake of Rodney King’s brutal beating at the hands of Los Angeles police – will also be presented. There will also be a new Soundsuit on display that commemorates the killing of George Floyd.

Echoing Cave’s usage of his own body in his work are Hew Locke and Lina Iris Viktor, who both inhabit their portraiture and mixed-media works. Meanwhile Wangechi Mutu reimagines what the human body looks like, with sculpture made from natural materials from Kenya such as red soil, horn, and shells.

© Kara Walker, courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York; Sprüth Magers, Berlin

Other works invoke fantastical elements in a myriad of ways. Some look back, and reframe the past allowing for other possibilities. Chris Ofili’s paintings transport Homer’s narratives to the islands of the Caribbean. Emma Gallagher’s work, on the other hand, injects mythology into pieces that address the horror of the Atlantic slave trade. Some respond to contemporary events; Sedrick Chisom and Kara Walker both present work that probes America’s history of racial violence. Others still consider the future, like Cauleen Smith’s immersive installation themed around community and Afrofuturistic utopias. Works on display also probe intersectionality – bringing discussions of gender, sexuality, and race together as Rashaad Newsome’s and Tabita Rezaire’s do.

In the Black Fantastic at the Southbank Centre

The exhibition sits at the core of the Southbank Centre’s Summer season, Summer: In the Black Fantastic. This will see them hosting a wide-ranging program of events exploring the breadth of contemporary Black art and culture. The Southbank Centre will consequently be covered in art installation, both inside and outside, for any viewers to experience. Meanwhile, BFI Southbank will be hosting showings of a curated series of films chosen by Ekow Eshun.

Curated by Ekow Eshun, with Assistant Curator Thomas Sutton and Curatorial Assistant Debbie Meniru, In the Black Fantastic features works from Nick Cave, Sedrick Chisom, Ellen Gallagher, Hew Locke, Wangechi Mutu, Rashaad Newsome, Chris Ofili, Tabita Rezaire, Cauleen Smith, Lina Iris Viktor, and Kara Walker.

In the Black Fantastic will run from 29 June – 18 September 2022. Following that, it will tour to Kunsthal Rotterdam, Netherlands from November 2022 – March 2023.

Book your tickets to the exhibition here.