For its first exhibition as part of Arts Council Collection National Partners Programme, Firstsite in Colchester hosts Super Black, an exhibition that asks, ‘What does it mean to be black in England today?’. The exhibition brings together Arts Council Collection works by artists including Hurvin Anderson, Claudette Johnson, Vanley Burke, Sonia Boyce and Helen Cammock, alongside new work by Southend-based artist, Elsa James.
Rather than being led directly from within the institution, Super Black was jointly devised and delivered by people from Essex’s black community, who worked to arrive at a selection of artworks from the Collection that they feel give an expression of black consciousness.
This more open and democratic approach to programming reflects Firstsite’s wider commitment to exploring new ways of working with local communities. As Firstsite’s Emma Reeve explains, “Super Black signals the start of a new way of working for Firstsite and having support from the Arts Council Collection has meant that we can work together meaningfully with our local community. In this case, the Super Black curatorial team was made up of people from the Black Afro-Caribbean communities of Colchester and Essex, all of whom have an integral role in their locality as an artist, café owner or community activist.”
The curatorial team worked together to develop ideas for the project through a series of workshops and discussions as well as visiting one of the Arts Council Collection’s stores, which presented the opportunity for the group to view and discuss some of the artworks they had selected. The curatorial team comprised artist Elsa James, as well as Lawrence Walker, Chair of Black History Month Colchester, Rachel Walton, co-founder of African Families in the UK (AFiUK), and Simone McLean and Yasmin Carr, of Colchester-based S&S Caribbean Café.