A highly political and socially charged exhibition, ‘The Meaning of Style’ at the New Art Exchange, features artists who negotiate between topics of black history, community, stereotype, and the black British aesthetic within developing sub-cultures. But what does it actually mean to be black or mixed race in Britain?

The artist Burke for example, juxtaposes iconic black and white photographs from the 1970s and 80s with harrowing coloured contemporary images, documenting the aftermath of stabbings and gun crime. These blood-splattered photographs reflect the prevalence of violence in inner-city areas, where a gunshot can take a life in seconds and destroy a community. Burke’s desire to “show his people to themselves,” is all the more poignant and ironic in his shot of the victim’s funeral. After all, the dead cannot see themselves. Through his work we must confront the uncomfortable truths of our society and inevitably ask: where does this violence stem from, and why is it so frequently associated with young black men?

However, although the exhibition explores black gangland culture, reflected in dress code and hip-hop music, it still cannot explain the senseless murder of young black student Stephen Lawrence, who was not a gang member. His white killers ganged up on him as he waited innocently at a bus stop. He was targeted because he was black. Tahera Aziz focuses attention on this issue with his piece ‘[re]locate’, highlighting police incompetence and racism. This auditory representation takes place in complete darkness, signifying the invisibility of black people when they demand justice for a racist crime.

‘The Meaning of Style’ is superbly curated and makes a significant contribution towards our understanding of black history and culture. It urges us to analyse phrases like “there ain’t no black in the Union Jack” and deepen our perception of blackness behind style.
Finishes 10th April 2010.

Giselle Kennedy

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