The New Year starts with a bang for the black diaspora when TATE Liverpool mounts Afro-Modern - Journey's Through the Black Atlantic this month (29 January – 25 April 2010). It's an ambitious exhibition that looks at art from both sides of the Atlantic between 1909 and the present day, using as its starting point Paul Gilroy’s view that the African Diaspora’s experience of trans-shipment and relocation was an entirely modern one that transformed them. The contingency of their New World lives shaped their formation of imagined communities and identities based on transposed cultural forms and a forced consciousness of race and its restrictions.
This is potentially contentious exhibition for the TATE that is still coming to terms with its own origins within the slave trade. So it is important that their telling of this history of the Black Atlantic is not about the African Diaspora alone since it was the European slave trade that set in motion this scattering of African peoples and their subsequent cultural dislocation and hybridization.
The Diaspora’s restless migratory patterns since their removal from Africa, has left its communities in constant motion, a people of the sea, forever looping back to points of entanglement rather than their origins. As ‘black westerners’ their movement into the metropolis of their long-time masters has meant that their host cultures too have absorbed, and been absorbed by, this process of syncretism. In this sense, Malcolm Bailey’s Hold, Separate but Equal; created in 1969 is poignant. Fashioned after abolitionist illustrations, the diagrammatic bare bones of a slave ship float against a stark glossy polymer azure blue sea. Deep inside the womb of this vessel, black and white bodies crouch. Although separated, both groups are equally bent low under the weight of slavery, suggesting that we are all implicated in this history of the middle passage and in turn we must all bear the burden of its consequences.