Ten’s To See: ‘Notes on a Native Son: After Baldwin’ At Peckham 24 Photo Festival

Peckham 24, the non-profit art festival focused on spotlighting innovative and experimental photographic talent, is undergoing its 2023 program between May 12 and 14. This year, an amalgamation of exhibitions, talks and performances, showing at a variety of venues around Peckham, are exploring the theme of body language. One unmissable interpretation is Notes on a Native Son: After Baldwin, an exhibition responding to writer James Baldwin’s 1955 essay collection which appraises representations of Black masculinity in mainstream, white-centric cultural outputs like film and literature.  

The collection has been curated by Emma Bowkett, the director of photography at FT Weekend Magazine, and 10 Magazine family member, Jermaine Francis, whose renowned photography has amassed worldwide recognition, from an exhibition in the National Portrait Gallery to features in publications such as i-D and Wall Street Journal.  

Taking a multifaceted approach to the physical, psychological and historical presentation of Black masculinity, the nine photographers featured focus on the complexity and depth of the Black male experience. Exploring how this intersects with class, sexuality and dis/ability, the exhibition is a rousing cry for those refusing to be confined by the white, Western gaze. As a result, the work showcased celebrates the multiplicity of the Black diaspora and overturns stereotypical depictions of contemporary Black life. Emotive, informative and essential, this display is a must-go for anyone wanting to observe and appreciate the power of photography in capturing the nuance of the Black experience. 

The versatile nature of the topic is matched by the differing artistic styles and focal subjects displayed throughout. London-based photographer Cian Oba-Smith, who specialises in delicate, photo-journalistic depictions of everyday communities, showcases his work Concrete Horseman, intended to remind viewers of African American contributions to modern and historical horse culture. Portraying the small community of horsemen that still exists in Philadelphia, Oba-Smith challenges the erasure of black history whilst championing the bond between Black men and boys that has been established through their common love of horses. 

Alternatively, Karl Ohiri, a London-born artist now based in Helsinki, showcases his produced work Self Portrait with Rotten Banana, 2020. Addressing the sexualised gaze and stereotypes commonly associated with the black male body, Ohiri’s image of a rotten banana coming out of his trouser zipper evokes ideas related to sex, masculinity and exoticism. 

Also included in the exhibition are pieces from George Dyer, whose playful, collage portraits present a progressive vision of Black masculinity, Jon Henry, whose experience with grief and generational trauma compounds in work reflecting family, anguish and healing, Amani Willett, who investigates the relationship between memory and social environment as well as evocative work from Andrew Jackson, Dexter McLean, Ryan Prince and Kadar R Small. 

On show at the Copeland Gallery, Notes on a Native Son will be shown alongside other exhibitions commenting on socio-political events, such as Hoda Afshar’s Women Life Freedom, showcasing equal rights protests in Iran, and cultural trends, such as Ankita DasHis Body is a Language, delving into the dichotomous self-presentation of cis-het males on dating apps.  

Whether you’re well versed in artistic explorations of the contemporary Black experience or it’s a topic you wish you knew more about, Notes on a Native Son is sure to be a worthwhile and enlightening experience for all those who attend. And it’s free. So no excuses.  

Photography courtesy of Peckham 24 Photo Festival.


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