This One Thing... Black Venus
Black Venus, a new Somerset House exhibition curated by Aindrea Emelife, brings together the work of 18 Black women and non-binary artists to examine the historical representation and shifting legacy of Black women in visual culture. London-born Emelife, one of the art world’s most exciting young curators, talks to Service95 Global Editorial Director Funmi Fetto about the importance of reclaiming Black female narratives
“When I studied art [at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London], I was always intrigued as to why I couldn’t see a greater representation of Blackness. When Blackness did appear, it was usually articulated through a white male gaze, which complicates the way that Black people are seen. Where Blackness goes unseen, Black women are doubly unseen. Women have historically been overlooked or erased from history and so have Black people, so Black women are like a convergence of the two. It becomes a double erasure.
“I always remember my mother telling me the story of Sarah Baartman, AKA Hottentot Venus. And so early on I was very aware of these moments in Black women’s history and how, as progressive as we like to think we are, these hangovers still exist in contemporary culture. This became a catalysing moment for Black Venus; the work featured is central to this topic of reclaiming narratives around Black femininity.
“Carrie Mae Weems was a starting point, but I also wanted people such as Maud Sulter, an incredible Ghanaian Scottish artist whose work hasn’t really been shown. There are of course titans including Ming Smith and Zanele Muholi – it was important to explore Black queer narratives – but also young artists like the fashion photographer Amber Pinkerton, who does some really important work around visualising Black freedom.
“I would love Black Venus to help people see that there is so much more to humanity. So much of the histories, stories and perspectives we’ve been told are so limited. It’s a curator’s duty to take the blinders off.”
Black Venus runs at Somerset House in London until 24 September 2023
Funmi Fetto is the Global Editorial Director of Service95 and a Contributing Editor at British Vogue
Grace On Motor Cycle (1978), Ming Smith © courtesy Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London; Me As Marilyn (1991), Ming Smith © courtesy Pippy Houldsworth Gallery; Venus (1992-1994), Carla Williams; Highness Blue (Hybrid 1) (2011), Delphine Diallo © courtesy MTArt; Photo Booth, Sabah, Girls Next Door (2020), Amber Pinkerton © courtesy ALICE BLACK; Anarcha (2017), Ayana V. Jackson © courtesy Mariane Ibrahim; Instant Model (1976), Ming Smith © courtesy Pippy Houldsworth Gallery; On A Clear Day, I Thought I Saw Forever (2020), Widline Cadet. All artwork courtesy of the artists