Barby Asante: Declaration of Independence at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Newcastle, 23 February–5 May 2019, free entry
London based artist, curator, educator and occasional DJ, Barby Asante, makes highly-charged work in response to the politics of place, race, gender, social justice, and particularly the impact of the legacies of slavery and colonialism upon the present. Her projects are centred in performative actions, research and togetherness, with her latest – ‘As Always a Painful Declaration of Independence’ – taking the form of a series of ‘episodes’ that collectively explore the social, cultural and political agency of womxn of colour, both in terms of the past and the global socio-political climate of the present.
Presented at Baltic, Gateshead, Declaration of Independence will exist as a performative forum that mirrors the conference and assembly spaces used to negotiate key historic treaties of independence, coalitions, trade deals, manifestos and policies; encouraging new dialogue around the possibilities for collective action going forwards.
And collective action is what Asante is about. In response to Grenfell, the Windrush scandal and Brexit, in May 2018 she staged a day-long convergence at London’s Conway Hall bringing together leading artists and organisations to reimagine the communities we live in. While her project The South London Black Archive (Peckham Platform/Tate Modern) formed a communal attempt to collect and archive Black music and memories in South London – an assertion of presence and visibility.
In 2017, Asante exhibited as part of the inaugural Diaspora Pavilion at the Venice Biennale and she concedes that representation surrounding artists of colour is slowly beginning to improve. Yet she remains sceptical of this ‘trend’ towards identity, arguing in a recent interview: “There is obviously a very urgent need for social change and creating a much more equitable space for artists of colour to have their work seen and appreciated. But visibility is not enough: structures need to change. And I think we’re a really long way away from this.”
Asante is an exciting and important voice emerging within the current cultural scene and her exhibition at BALTIC looks likely to raise some urgent questions around the state of society in Britain today.