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How the Black Cultural Archives continued to thrive in 2020

In a time when the arts have been severely impacted by the pandemic, the Black Cultural Archives (BCA) has commissioned digital residencies that explore and push the boundaries of what it means to be a Black artist

Written by Paula Akpan in association with Google
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We sat down with curators Languid Hands (made up of artists Rabz Lansiquot and Imani Robinson), who have run BCA’s Digital Artists Residencies during the pandemic. They’ve invited seven artists to explore the BCA’s archives during the pandemic and respond in their own ways. We also spoke with Pelumi Odubanjo, curator of the digital exhibition  ‘Re-imagining Care’, which delves into the Black woman arts movement.

Languid Hands, what sparked the way you curated your residency?
We were asked by artist and curator Barby Asante to curate these online residencies. We basically saw it as an opportunity to get some artists paid in the middle of the pandemic to do some work that is enjoyable, not too arduous and getting them into the BCA archives. There’ve been some barriers for a few artists to get into the archive, so it was just a great opportunity to get people in there. Art is such a fantastic mode for reckoning with our history and all the fragments that can be found in the archive, which are normally quite inaccessible so it was great to be a part of that and offer artists ownership over it.

And what about you, Pelumi?
The bit that enticed me the most about this invitation was the chance to contribute to the oral histories department of BCA because that’s what I’ve used so much in my own research and has formed a lot of my knowledge. With my series, I really framed it as an intimate conversation between myself and artists who allowed me into their spaces to talk about their work.

With that in mind, what are your hopes for the legacy of the work you’ve been doing with the BCA, Languid Hands?
We definitely want to create space for more people to access the archive, making it more exciting, but we also want this work to be funded. This was only possible because the BCA had access to an amount of funding but we also want artists to be able to work within these spaces in a longer-term capacity, with this research informing their practice going forward. It’s difficult to talk about legacy, especially as Black people, in relation to things that are so contingent on factors like funding so it’s about making sure that we are able to continue developing those relationships – that’s more of a priority for us rather than wanting our work to outlive us when we’re dead.

And for you, Pelumi, what do you hope your residencies will spark down the line?
I just hope that it will allow for archives to become more accessible or to at least be viewed as such. The archive isn’t something that is there by default but it’s the things that Black artists make and produce which go into creating what is an archive. In this age when everyone wants to do something Black, it’s so nice to put this labour into an organisation like the BCA. We want to make it more open, not just to the people who view the archive, but also to the artists who contribute that work.

Ashley Walters
Photograph: Udoma Janssen

Discover our Black LDN series

We’re all about championing the people, communities and businesses that make London such an incredible city. And that’s just one of the reasons why we’ve created this hub dedicated to some of the Black-owned businesses we love, in partnership with Google. Here you’ll find everything from profiles of business owners to a very cool interview with Ashley Walters – the guest editor of our latest mag, which is dedicated to Black-owned businesses. We think you’ll like it.

And remember: just because we may not be able to visit these businesses right now, there are still plenty of ways you can show your love. Click-and-collect, order takeaways, buy online and give them a Google review.

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