Black Cultural Archives Brixton hosts new exhibition – Before Them, We

The Black Cultural Archives in Brixton is now the home of Before Them, We, a multidisciplinary project by artist and cultural producer, Ruth Sutoyé.

The project brings photography, audio interviews and various events together to humanise the stories of African grandparents and elders living in the UK.

Sutoyé said: “So much of our passing-down of culture, especially as West Africans and specifically Nigerians, happens orally, and that’s powerful.

“But if we don’t capture it so that it can be archived and passed on in this digital age, we lose out on what it means to pass down legacy, heritage, culture and tradition.”

The exhibition displays photos of Isatu Sesay from Sierra Leone, Felicia Wiafe-Ababio and Esther Bentil from Ghana, and Deborah Opajobi from Nigeria.

They are four West African grandmothers who moved to the UK to live, work, and raise their families.

Opposite the display of their portraits is a collection of spaces dedicated to the grandmothers, their children, and their grandchildren.

An interactive “scan me” QR code allows visitors to listen to the grandmothers tell their stories as they take in the pictures on display.

Sutoyé worked with producer and writer Tobi Kyeremateng and historian and curator Natalie Fiawoo, who curated the exhibition.

She expressed that Fiawoo understood her vision of making the exhibition intimate.

She added: “I knew I wanted some big imagery – I always play a lot with texture, and we printed on paper and denim.”

Upcoming events

Before Them, We is hosting a number of events over the next month to carry on the dialogue that Sutoyé has started.

She said: “People can expect different opportunities to engage in different arms of the project – I try to create community elements to an exhibition.”

As part of the project, a documentary photography workshop was held on August 21 with Nigerian photographer Etinosa Yvonne.

The attendees were encouraged to come with a camera to learn about documentary photography and bringing a narrative to life through this medium.

Fiawoo also hosted an oral history workshop for people who wish to facilitate an oral history interview through the lens of elders.

Two long table discussions are also being held at Roundhouse on September 9 and 15.

Sutoyé said: “I’m very interested in facilitating spaces for Black people to dialogue, ideate, imagine and reinvigorate each other.

“Some of these conversations are paramount to have, but in-person.”

The first discussion will be about Arts and Education, and the second will be about Space and Future.

Sutoyé aims to explore how Black people in the UK navigate the Arts and Education system, and how they take up space physically.

She added: “Also what it means to reimagine what Blackness in this country will look like because of how hostile this country is towards us.”

There will also be a screening of Matriarch’s Garden, a film directed by Sutoyé which features a family from the exhibition and explores the cross-generational love between a Nigerian grandmother, mother, and granddaughter.

Matriarchy Garden premieres at Rich Mix on September 2.

Sutoyé said: “I lean on creating work that I do not see, and the great thing about the Black-British landscape here is that it’s ever-growing.

“So many of us are reclaiming our space and contributing to this canon; before you know it, there will be such a wealth of bank to dip into when you talk about the Black-British experience.”

Get involved

You can visit the Before Them, We exhibition at the Black Cultural Archives.

Support the BCA here.

September 9 long table discussion tickets can be found here.

September 15 long table discussion tickets can be found here.

Matriarch’s Garden premiere tickets are available here.

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