Visiting the Tate’s Soul of a Nation exhibition reminded me how important art is, how it has the power to show others how things are, highlighting what is happening, both positive and negative.

Image from Carolyn Mims Lawrence Black Children Keep your Spirits Free

This is an extremely well curated show, with the first rooms shocking in their intensity and the outright hatred and violence that Blacks were experiencing in America during the Civil Rights Movement. This was portrayed explicitly and was harrowing to experience. The later rooms are still intense, but highlight positivities of Black culture, as well as questioning what is ‘Black art’. Quite frankly it feels like a lot of the issues are still there, especially in America.

The Tate have curated a Soul of a Nation playlist on Spotify to listen to as part of the experience.

The whole exhibition reminded me of the importance of art. During Greenbelt, I met Wiyaala, a young artist from Ghana, who is singing songs about sex, and challenging Female Genital Mutilation through her work, this is deeply shocking – sex isn’t mentioned in polite company, but she goes about it none the less.


I went up to her and explained that when I was growing up there was a girl duo called Salt ’n’ Pepper who sang ‘let’s talk about sex’. To me, growing up in very rural Surrey this was astonishing. They were singing about sex! In a positive way, it was a good thing! Then I read Color Purple at school and found out about race issues and what it was like a in a completely different world from my comfortable life. Although, my teachers managed to skip over the whole lesbian scene, I was shocked on reading it as an adult to find that! I’m quite impressed they managed to gloss over that one. Those three black woman had a massive impact on me and helped me to see the wider world apart from the tiny one I inhabited.

Art – music, literature, photography, visual art, can all share our world with the wider world. It can highlight injustice, it can support revolution. Surely today, we need that in our lives, art is vital, there is a reason that political parties who are trying to control the population kill or suppress artists. What are you doing with your art? I feel like I am not doing enough, I have Beautiful Thurrock, where I highlight the positive here in Thurrock, but is that enough? Probably not.


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