Staying Power: Photographs of Black British Experience 1950s-1990s, V&A, London

More than 50 photographs, recently acquired from the Black Cultural Archives, document the experiences of black people in Britain during the second half of the 20th century, an area previously under-represented in the V&A’s 500,000-strong photographic collection. These photographs are coupled with works from 17 artists, as well as oral histories gathered by Black Cultural Archives from the photographers themselves, their relatives, and the people captured on camera.

The images on view depict a wide view of the black British experience – there are intimate portrayals of British-Caribbean life in London in the 1960s-1970s; black beauty pageants in the 1970s and 1980s give an insight into music, style and fashion; and colourful works from the 1980s-1990s demonstrate a vibrant black youth culture.

In addition to this documentation are artistic and conceptual explorations of race and identity, notably Yinka Shonibare’s Diary of a Victorian Dandy. This photographic series depicts Shonibare in the role of a “dandy” – an outsider who uses his flamboyance and wit to penetrate the highest levels of society – and therefore looks at themes of alienation and marginalisation in society, and how this has (and perhaps has not) changed over the course of 20th century history. Elsewhere, Maxine Walker’s Untitled series (1995) sees the artist photographed with different skin tones and hairstyles to draw attention to racial stereotypes.

To coincide with the display at the V&A, Black Cultural Archives also presents an exhibition of 25 images drawn from the V&A’s Staying Power (15 January – 30 June 2015) at their heritage centre in Brixton. #InspiringPower

Staying Power: Photographs of Black British Experience 1950s-1990s, until 24 May, Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL.

1. Al Vandenberg, High Street Kensington from the series On a Good Day © The Estate of Al Vandenberg / Victoria and Albert Museum, London.