Liz Johnson Artur review

3 out of 5 stars
Liz Johnson Artur review
Liz Johnson Artur 'Burgess Park' (2010) Image courtesy of the artist.

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Astonishingly, this is the first UK solo show for Liz Jonhson Artur, a London-based, Russian-Ghanaian photographer, who has been documenting the African diaspora for three decades. This show is all about black Londoners. Schoolkids look awkward; three dolled-up women sit at a wedding, one cradling a can of Guinness; there are ravers and scarred boxers, parties and stop-and-searches. A girl poses on a leopard-print staircase in an amazing oxblood outfit. There are old black dudes in the street in massive hats. There’s a whole section devoted to black drag queens. There’s a muscled-up guy in just his pants, covered in body paint with ‘Nurishment’ written across his chest. I mean literally all of life is here.  

This endless plurality of experience is reflected in Artur’s treatment of the images. Some are big, some are small. Some are black-and-white, some are colour. Some are conventionally printed, others are on cloth or acetate sheets, or made into books. But – and this is where it goes a bit wrong – most of them are displayed hung on big structures made of bamboo poles. These create more hanging space but are a massive impediment to being able to see a lot of the pictures properly. Maybe this is intended as non-hierarchical democratisation, but I just found it annoying.  

I totally understand why photographers don’t just want their works identically framed for viewers to file past. It makes sense for an artist who documents people as restlessly and compulsively as Artur to want you to be among them, to be surrounded by them, to be overwhelmed by them. But that isn’t the effect here. What you lose in the detail, you definitely don’t gain in the overall impact, and that’s a real shame, because I loved so many of the images here.

You should still go and see this show, if you’re even remotely interested in what it means to be a human. Just don’t forget that part of being a human is sometimes frustration.


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