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ValUE | Exhibition Guide


Explore

Introduction
Ground Floor
Floor One
Floor Two
Return to Ground Floor
#Blackout Board

The audio above includes the all interpretation in one file.
The text guide below has individual audio description for each work and the interpretative texts.


Introduction


Hello my name is Valerie and welcome to ValUE, a multi-layered project that examines the loaded history and complex present attitudes towards Black female bodies, with a desire to restore a greater sense of value to them.

A Choreographed Journey

In the spirit of anarchy, I want you to know that you are free to make your own journey through exhibition but if you want a choreographed journey, please make your way outside. All the photography you will see in this iteration of the project was taken by my beloved collaborator, Henry Gorse. This audience choreography is for you to gather a bit more information and challenge your own ideas/biases. We can all acknowledge that the conditioning of the white gaze can lead us to not truly see what’s actually in front of us.

The choreography goes as follows: make 2 loops/cycles/performances of this exhibition.

Loop 1

Take the route you wish. The only rule here is that you’re not allowed to do any of the activities. Notice your thoughts and your body. Make sure you’re not wearing your headphones so you can take in the curated music in the space and also other people. Feel free to socialise. 

Loop 2

Place on your headphones, make your way outside to the courtyard and then continue playing the audio guide.

A Final thing before we begin

If you’re a Black person attending this, hopefully there will be some things in here that you didn’t know or sparked new thought. If so, great. If you know and understand everything that you’re about to witness then hopefully you can just bask in all facets of our shared experience, pain, beauty – and our joy. Please know that all of this is 4 U.


Ground Floor


Floor plan of the Ground Floor of Siobhan Davies Studios.

1. The Tale of Two Institutions

Audio description of The Tale of Two Institutions

2. Plastic Patriot

Audio description of Plastic Patriot

Both banners here represent the institutions that have policed black women for over 400 years, whilst on the chessboard the black queen rests comfortably on her throne. Chess is one of the many games that I use to illustrate that racism is in fact one huge game, with a seemingly infinite amount of levels. Once you crack one code or beat one boss, you move onto the next level. Each level gets harder as new bosses present themselves.

Have you ever wondered why the whites in chess get to move first? I had an acute awareness as a child that even in the world of gaming, it’s advantageous to be white. In a study on a small database of approximately 247,000 games, White wins 37.4%, draws 33.7%, and loses 28.9%. In every chess database in fact, there is consistent evidence that there is an advantage for playing White. If the game happens symmetrically, whites can attack or check first and break the cycle. In ValUE, we’re following MY chess rules; toxic cycles will be broken, I will not be attacked and you will absolutely check yourself.

3. Courtyard Chess

Chess board and singular chess piece

Audio description of Courtyard Chess

4. The ValUE

Oil painting on canvas
Alexandra Veres

Audio description of The ValUE

This was the first image created for the project. Alexandra was the first artist I contacted when I had the idea for this project, because she could depict me in a way that meant I could recognise myself. I felt for once that my body was being celebrated. This feeling was uncommon for me in both the dance and art sector. I realised that this is partially because the world of life drawing (and actually the world at large) is built on ideas of white femininity and anonymous muses, whose bodies are owned (at least artistically) by the artists who depict them. Unless you’re 400+ years old, the likelihood is that the majority of your visual consumption is white. People are not used to seeing depictions of women like me: dark skinned, coily haired and Black. The effect of this continues to skew perceptions of black femininity in its many facets. How can we think about ways in which the artist and muse can share ownership of the art itself?

5. Checkmate

Printed on Duratran
Henry Gorse

Audio description of Checkmate

6. The Drowned and the Displaced

Printed on Duratran
Henry Gorse

Audio description of The Drowned and the Displaced

White supremacy is the air we breathe, the water we all swim in, no matter our colour.

7. Positive Primitivism

Printed on paper
Alexandra Veres

Audio description of Positive Primitivism

Photographed in Hyde Park, this image touches on the introduction of Black and Brown nude women in a somewhat “positive” light to the art world – through primitivism. Paul Gauguin was renowned for spearheading (pun intended) this movement along with Picasso (who will reappear later), along with their contemporaries. By using his multiple brown mistresses as muses, he pioneered “savage” art, one of the legacies of colonialism; the continued colonisation of bodies and minds through art being a clear counterpoint to the lie that everything ended with the abolition of the slave trade. It’s simply remarkable that black women such as Megan Thee Stallion and Rihanna have reclaimed the word savage through their artistry.

The disparity between Gauguin’s art legacy, and the exploitation he engaged in, is a prime example of one of the many ways in which Black female bodies were confined to exist in art only as preliterate objects to conquer. Gauguin was praised for bringing Black nude bodies to the art world, even though the women only existed in his art for his personal pleasure/fetishism. 

I want to redefine primitivism. Could it ever be created positively, and if so, what does that entail? If primitivism is to benefit the black female body in any way, its shaping would have to allow black women to own their sexuality.

8. The Tree of Artificial Knowledge

Printed on paper
Alexandra Veres

Audio description of The Tree of Artificial Knowledge

Floor 1


Floor plan for the first floor at Siobhan Davies Studios.

9. Girl with the bottle cap earring/Ghosts of Racists Present

Printed on Duratran
Henry Gorse

Audio description of Girl with the bottle cap earring/Ghosts of Racists Present

This piece was inspired by the Shalekhet (fallen leaves) installation by Menashe Kadishman in the Jewish Museum in Berlin. Rather than stepping on faces, as black women we constantly carry on our backs the weight of misogynoir – the hatred of black women from both black and white people. As long as this goes unacknowledged – as well as racism’s sibling, colourism – we will continue to carry the burden of proving that these ideas exist. If these terms are new to you, make sure that you take the time to research them. As an additional note here, typically the introduction of masks in western twentieth century abstract art is attributed to Picasso’s cubism. However, he appropriated art from Tanzania and other countries from Africa, the masks in particular from the Dan tribe in Ivory Coast.

10. The Vitruvian Val

11. The Birth of ValUE 

12. Warrior Woman

13. ValUE the Second

14. Super

15. Hieroglyphics

illustrated on paper, photographed then printed on invisible Duratran

Anonymous

Audio description of this group of woks

The creator of these illustrations has asked to remain anonymous. These illustrations are famous images, poses, avatars, symbols or archetypes that are often attributed to white bodies. The Vitruvian Val is a recreation of the famous image of the Vitruvian Man.The original Vitruvian Man was said to represent ideal human body proportions. Leonardo Da Vinci used the measurements of the male models he found at the time in Milan. I wonder if he were alive to do it all again, would he change his ideals? Or was this all purposeful, and the beginnings of visual genocide and white supremacy. If we can reimagine the images that we’ve been taught how to see, then maybe we have a chance to combat the erasure of black female bodies and the idea that their artistry is of lesser value. I’m not saying I should replace the original, or that I am the epitome of the human body; rather, I’m the ideal representation of my own humanity.

The Hottentot Venus (Sarah Baartman) led me to think about the Birth of Venus, and how this image and many other white nude images have been used throughout art history and media to epitomise beauty. Throughout history, the depiction of these two Venuses, the goddess and the ‘Hottentot’, has served to underpin two simultaneous opposing concepts about women. The white Venus has been treated as the epitome and default of femininity, her slimness, skin colour and modesty providing the essence of what is desirable and marriageable. The parade of Sarah Baartman was used as ‘proof’ of the savagery, hypersexuality and primitiveness of Black women, the perfect specimen of ‘otherness’. Baartman was displayed as an oddity and in buffoonery, caricatured and co-opted as the butt of the joke in political campaigns. This served to underpin concepts of black female bodies as ugly, non-human specimens, and was foundational in the concept of fatphobia. After her death, Baartman’s brain, skeleton and genitalia were kept on display in Paris until 1974. Her remains weren’t repatriated and buried until 2002. Fatophobia and anti-Blackness have shared roots, pages from the same racist book. The Birth of ValUE hopes for a Black renaissance.

16. Island Life Party

Printed on paper
Henry Gorse

Audio description of Island Life Party

17. Gender Reveal Party

Printed on paper
Henry Gorse

Audio description of Gender Reveal Party

The homogenous “Western” countries destroyed or suppressed many different cultures and ways of life in their competitive colonisation. Did you know that the gender binary as a concept has its roots in colonialism?

18. The Nude Trap

Printed on paper
Henry Gorse

Audio description of The Nude Trap

Ballet originated in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th century. In 1653, King Louis XIV of France put ballet on the stage – interestingly as an act of political propaganda, to convince the masses he was in fact the sun god, Apollo.Pink ballet tights were made to resemble skin tone in order to show the lines of the body, but as ballet grew, this costuming to achieve certain looks was never extended to fit anything other than white bodies.There was no consideration that the white body was not the standard blueprint or default, and that other people would also train in ballet. I believe that Ballet was never made with the intention of including black dancers. I reflect on the fact that ballet tights were not offered in shades of brown – until very recently – and how that sent a firm message about Black dancers and their place in the dance sector. Nude is not just one hue.

19. Body Data

Film
Carwell Casswell

Audio description coming soon

20. The Mannequin Sea

Printed on paper
Henry Gorse

Audio description of The Mannequin Sea

This dance film explores a fresh perspective on the naked Black female body, and it’s presentation in art spheres. Photographed on “Mannequin Mountain”, the images capture my lived experience as a Black woman, studying and navigating a predominantly white and Eurocentric dance industry. 

21. Sugar, Soap and Nothing Nice

African Soap, sugar

Audio description of Sugar, Soap and Nothing Nice

Purity, cleanliness, and refinement is a discourse that often pertains to whiteness. Hygiene was racialized particularly in the 19th century to further subliminally embed white colonial logic. Soap was made ivory white to effectively reiterate that white equals clean, moral and right, and anything other should be cowed into submission. We also see this in food as the common aesthetic of rice, bread, pasta, salt and sugar are all white. Some of these become white during the refinement process, and often have lesser nutritional value to their natural state. Others are refined to white for specific taste and usage, for example sugar. White sugar has its own distasteful past as the enduring symbol of the transatlantic slave trade. The extraction and commodification of sugar, bringing huge wealth to white owners at the expense of Black lives, sits alongside the classist associations of the poor only eating treacle or molasses as the rich have the finest refinement. Ultimately commodity racism is at play. Ideas of ethnic cleansing are the direct result of this language always used in tandem with the white aesthetic.  

22. If a tree falls and no one is there to witness it…

Printed on paper
Henry Gorse

Audio description of If a tree falls and no one is there to witness it…

Now turn to the cardboard wall you passed. There’s been multiple protests, slogans and hashtags, yet we ALL still live under a white supremacist heteronormative patriarchy. How can we ensure that this is a thing of the past? Take a pen from the square pot. I invite you to write something on a piece of cardboard, as an act of protest: write one thought or feeling following what you have experienced so far.


Floor 2


Floor plan for the second floor at Siobhan Davies Studios.

23. Queen’s Gambit

Printed on Duratan
Henry Gorse

Audio description of Queen’s Gambit

24. The Most Disrespected

Printed on paper
Henry Gorse

Audio description of The Most Disrespected

25. Microaggressive Meltdown

Printed on paper
Henry Gorse

Audio description of Microaggressive Meltdown

Roof Studio Films

The artworks in the roof studio all deal with complex topics; the commercial hypersexuality of white femininity in media (otherwise called the sexy white seal of approval); the ‘vanishment’ of most of the spectrum of ‘nude’; and modern violence against Black bodies. The ValUE Montage also includes the behind-the-scenes Black Joy underpinning the creativity on display.

Following the launch event these films will screen in the Reception during Thursday evening late openings.

26. Plastered, wounded

Film
Luar Klinghofer Bar Dov

Audio description coming soon

27. The White Sea

Film
Henry Gorse

Audio description coming soon

28. ValUE Montage

curated by Valerie Ebuwa

Audio description coming soon


29. Queen Bee

Printed on paper
Henry Gorse

Audio description of Queen Bee

Bees, just like every person marginalised at multiple intersections, have to contribute to a complex and interconnected ecosystem(s) that allow a diverse number of different species to coexist. We can be pollinators that support each other’s growth by creating our own systems, when we find that what’s already been put in place isn’t for the benefit of us all. Here’s to better bee-keeping, and hopefully a better ecology.


Return to the Ground Floor


30. Branded

Printed on warm leatherette, furnished leatherette.
Henry Gorse

Audio description of Branded

LIl Kim is an icon who really paved the way for black female liberation, with her unparalleled artistry. This work is a response to David LaChapelle’s ‘Lil Kim:Luxury Item’, which can be seen in the book Hip Hop Immortals: The Remix in the library. The image is Kim’s body covered in the Louis Vuitton Logo. This is one of fashion’s most famous nudes, yet here we see how the black female nude can only exist in commercial contexts – unless it’s branded and owned by whiteness. This nude was the key that opened the door to Hip Hop artists entering the world of high fashion. Shortly after this image was released, Louis Vuitton put out a cease and desist – and currently own the rights to a version of this image. My version undercuts capitalism by using fake designer items.

31. The ValUE Framework

Laminated paper

Audio description coming soon

The ValUE framework is a creative framework made to navigate systems and institutions, in order to identify and avoid anti-black racism. It’s been created to centre the experiences that black people are ​​subjugated to, but can be used by anyone as a structure to create a dialogue about inequity. It’s separated into 3 parts:

Val
U
E

Each part is the prefix of a word that allows the user to measure their value in any given situation and provides suggestions to find a resolution. I am currently teaching and consulting using this structure in order to generate a robust, multi-pronged dialogue for anti-black racism.

32. #blackouttuesday

Printed on prima lawn cotton
Henry Gorse

Audio description of #blackouttuesday

On 2nd June 2020, millions of Instagram users performed an act of committing to valuing black lives – by posting black squares in solidarity with Black people globally. By and large, this was only a performance of solidarity. The algorithms running the site flooded everyone’s feeds with these squares, but once it was no longer trending, people went back to their daily lives and really, nothing changed. Of course the algorithm, like chess, is another racialised game made for the benefit of white players. Black squares fell like a cyber avalanche to cover and erase black voices. What is the next choreographic score for white supremacy?


#blackout board


Finally, return to the parlour and find the #blackout board (number 33 on the map). Carefully follow the instructions for your final task. Thank you for attending the Material Archive and experiencing ValUE.


Special thanks

Sarah Richter-Rose, Leonie Wichmann, Lucie Freynhagen, Ryan Munroe, Henry Gorse, Joseph Lynch, Svenja Wichmann, Sarika Thakorlal, Ruby Baker, Tina Maslakova, Alexandra Veres, Phoebe Davies, Kristie Barber, Rachel Cunningham Clark, Pierre Babbage, Clod Ensemble and Siobhan Davies Studios.