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Black Her_Stories Matter

Red Me Painting by Rita Keegan, 1988
Red Me, Rita Keegan, 1988

Here at london feminista we don’t wait until Black History Month every October to celebrate black her_stories, we work to embed it in everything we do. Feminism is an empty word if doesn’t also strive to dismantle racism, ablism and every other form of discrimination. The patriarchy is not an isolated system of oppression – it operates in a complex web that underpins other harmful structures such as white supremacy, imperialism and capitalism. While we believe in a world where Black History Month is no longer needed – we know this is some way off, and until then we will use it as an important and welcome opportunity to amplify the voices of our siblings of colour … but not without delving deeper.

Black and people of colour (BPOC) have a long been part of our history – but, they have often been erased from a public narrative that has been whitewashed over the centuries, hoping to maintain ignorance. How many of us have learnt about the Industrial Revolution, the progress, the inventions – all by great white men (apparently!) … all of it built on the back of millions of slaves (in reality!). A few years ago, I took the ‘Life in the UK’ test – there was no mention of Black history in the hundreds of pages I read … yet there is so much to learn and understand about the contributions BPOC have made over the many centuries – and it is about time they got the credit for it. Of course, much of this has been known for decades – if you took time to look and question.

Last year, however, following the murder of George Floyd and the wave of activism led by the Black Lives Matter movement – both sides of the Atlantic - the glaring gaps in (white) public knowledge and acceptance of BPOC history, herstory, culture, literature, music and experience were once again exposed. Hopefully there is renewed impetus to educate and learn – even if it is a very slow process, which is constantly disrupted and interrupted. We all have a job to do to change the narrative – and the time is now!

‘Somewhere between there and here’

This month, we’re setting off to the South London Gallery for Rita Keegan’s first solo exhibition in more than fifteen years – entitled Somewhere Between There and Here, after a poem written by her artist uncle, Keith Simon. The artworks on display reflect the intersection of new media experimentation, feminist practice and the Black Arts Movement of the 1980s, of which she was a key figure, including establishing the Brixton Art Gallery, in the aftermath of the 1981 Brixton uprisings, and curating Mirror Reflecting Darkly, the first exhibition by The Black Women Artists collective in 1982.

Born in the Bronx in 1949, Rita Keegan is of Caribbean and Black-Canadian descent and moved to London in 1980 having studied Fine Art at the San Francisco Art Institute from 1969-1972. Her work explores memory, history, dress and adornment, often through the use of her extensive family archive – a photographic record of a black middle class Canadian family dating from 1890s to present day.

As well as a prolific artist, she is an archivist. Between the 1980s to the early 2000s, Rita Keegan collected and preserved leaflets, photographs, newsletters and exhibition literature from the British Black arts scene – because without it, “it was hard to say that you existed and very easy to be written out of history.” Precisely!

As part of the Rita Keegan Archive Project, a new essay collection and archival sourcebook, Mirror Reflecting Darkly – containing a range of essays, artworks and rare archival material, edited by Rita Keegan, Matthew Harle and Ego Ahaiwe Sowinski – published by Goldsmiths Press. It is beautiful and insightful - as is the exhibition, which offers a rich melange of her artworks: digital animation, textiles, collages and paintings; and explores the link between memory, history and the act of representation. It will give you a wonderful sense of her life, her story and abundant creativity.

Let the adventure continue

Staying south of the river, you have a host of options … so make a day of it!

  • Lunch at Persepolis nearby, is a definite must. The food, the aroma and the ambiance are simply gorgeous … there aren’t many places like it left in London. It also has a shop packed with Persian delicatessen – so get ready to stock up.

  • Grab coffee at the Bower hut café in Brunswick Park. If you are in luck, you might even catch an event at the little gallery – a refurbished ladies’ loo. The super cute café serves tea, coffee, cakes and has a range of books, cards and gifts on display – all with a feminist twist.

  • Pop into the Feminist Library – it’s an amazing space. I remember attending the launch event … and then lockdown happened not long after. So do check it out – but remember to book.

  • Visit the Migration Museum’s immersive exhibition - Room to Breathe - which invites you to discover stories from generations of new arrivals to Britain. And this is a really important issue – especially at a time when the public and political discourse about immigration is particularly unhelpful and hostile - in our attitudes towards those who come and settle in the UK who are from other.

  • Also look out for Little Amal - the 3.5 metre-tall living artwork of a young Syrian refugee child at the heart of The Walk. Little Amal is travelling 8,000km - across Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and the UK - in support of refugees - arriving in Folkestone on 19th October and heading to London for a range of events starting in Lewisham on 22nd October.

Black her-stories – love, solidarity, sisterhood

“I am not free while any woman is unfree,

even when her shackles are very different from my own.” Audre Lorde

A special shout out to 5 organisations by and for women of colour - that we have a lot to learn from. Support them if you can:

  • gal-demmedia publication committed to telling the stories of people of colour from marginalised genders.

  • The Triple Cripples was established by two disabled Black Women, for Women, Femmes & Non-Binary POC, living with disabilities, to challenge the lack representation and unaddressed discrimination they and people like them face every single day.

  • UK Black Pride is Europe’s largest celebration for LGBTQI+ people of African, Asian, Caribbean, Latin American and Middle Eastern descent. It creates a safe space to celebrate diverse sexualities, gender identities, culture and gender expressions and backgrounds Black LGBTIQ+ and QTIPOC culture.

  • Imkaan is a Black feminist organisation – and the only national umbrella - dedicated to addressing violence against Black and minoritised women and girls - i.e. women and girls which are defined in policy terms as Black and ‘Minority Ethnic’ (BME)

  • Women for Refugee Women empower refugee and asylum- seeker women to become leaders and advocates for change. They also publish research, campaign and work with policy makers to make the case for a fairer asylum process. #SetHerFree

Info about booking and opening times:

Fire Station

82 Peckham Rd, SE15 5LQ

28-30 Peckham High Street

SE15 5DT

Unit 2

Brunswick Park

Camberwell, SE5 7HR

The Sojourner Truth Community Centre 161 Sumner Rd

Peckham, SE15 6JL

Please note: Pre-booking is currently required for all visitors wishing to research or browse our collection.

Unit 11, Lewisham Shopping Centre, London, SE13 7HB


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