Black History Month: Celebrating black artists

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By Kofo Ajala, Opinion Digital Editor

Kofo Ajala explores Michele Curtis' vibrant Seven Saints of St Pauls, discussing how the murals celebrate the Arts in Black History Month. Each portrait depicts an influential community member and recognises their efforts for racial equality.

History and art both have intrinsic value in consolidating and even forming one's own identity. When history and art come together, you can create a beautiful thing. Attending the Seven Saints of St Pauls’ art and heritage walk made this abundantly clear. The Easton born artist, Michele Curtis, uses her art to thrust black Bristolian natives to the forefront of their communities, reimagining the landscape of St Paul’s as a breeding ground for black excellence.

The ‘Seven Saints of St Paul's’ is a project which runs in conjunction with Curtis’ extending ‘Iconic Black Britons’ venture. It features portraits of seven St Paul’s locals known within their communities for their collective and individual efforts for racial equality. This includes Carmen Beckford, founder of The Commonwealth Coordinating Committee, and Audley Evans, a pioneer of Bristol Bus Boycott. Together, some of these members even came to create the famous St Paul's Carnival.

Each portrait feels animated with vibrancy and full of warmth. While on the tour, people mentioned how they could see “kindness” radiating from the eyes of each of the portrait subjects. Perhaps this was a result of Curtis' personal connection to the history of Black Bristolians and an obligation to do their stories justice.

'OUT OF MANY'/'ONE PEOPLE' | Epigram / Kofo Ajala

The reality of the case is that these murals exist as a result of Curtis’ own artistic vision. Her desire to see herself represented in Bristol history is what urged her to propagate these narratives through her art. This is why representation in art is something so incredibly important. There is a clear value that comes from giving black artists the space to create and through doing so, bolster black cultural identities. Black art like that of the ‘Seven Saints’ holds with them so many dimensions of personal worth.

In a world that often chooses to understand you on shallow racial terms, providing black artists with a podium on which to flourish and express themselves is so important. This doesn't only allow us to better understand the social and cultural motivations surrounding art. It also allows black Britons to have art that represents us through our own eyes.

Attendees of the Seven Saints of St Pauls’ art and heritage walk | Epigram / Kofo Ajala

So much of art is born from the experiences and inspirations of an artist’s life. Personally, I feel as though there is something inherently different when blackness is simply a subject of art without black artists having a hand in its making. It is empowering to see art made by us for us. The unfortunate reality is that, had it not been for the career of one of the very few black artists in Bristol, these murals may never have come to pass.

It is empowering to see art made by us for us

It is important to revel in the artistic success of black artists all year round. This isn't something that should be isolated to only one month. But as we use this time to reflect on the historical existence of black people throughout history, so too should we appreciate black artists making their own.

Featured: Epigram / Kofo Ajala

How have you been celebrating Black History Month in the Arts?

AUTHOR

Kofo Ajala

Digital Opinion Editor - History 3rd Year