October is Black History Month. Although recognised by the US government in 1976, it wasn’t until 1987 when it was first celebrated in London, with the aim of challenging racism and raising awareness of the many contributions that people from African and Caribbean backgrounds have made to our society across the centuries, as their achievements were absent from the history curriculum taught in our schools.
In 1985, Bernie Grant became the leader of Haringey Council, the first-ever Black person to hold such a position in Europe. In October that year, he publicly supported local youth against police harassment and the institutional racism in the Metropolitan police, when the death of Cynthia Jarrett (Grime artist Scorcher’s grandmother), during a police raid on her home, sparked the riot on Broadwater Farm estate. In 1987, he was elected by the Tottenham constituency to become one of the first 3 Black MP’s in the House of Commons.
Bernie Grant, MP in Tottenham from 1987
This year, 2020, the reality of racism has again been very apparent. The murder of George Floyd by police in USA led to worldwide protests and the rise of #BlackLivesMatter movement. There were renewed commitments among many individuals and organisations to educate themselves about Black history and to confront the legacies of Britain’s colonial past, as part of understanding racism and standing in solidarity against it, in all its forms.
BlackLivesMatter protests in Lordship Rec
Tottenham’s largest public green space, Lordship Rec, became the location of weekly protests – ‘taking the knee’ – attended by 100’s of local residents.
Local residents Taking a Knee in Lordship Rec at the regular BLM rally
Activists inspire the rally with their passionate speeches
North London Creatives Resistance, a group of creatives local to Tottenham grew out of these Black Lives Matter protests and gatherings held in Lordship rec throughout this summer. NLCR aims to celebrate black history, experience and community in North London through organising innovative and engaging creative community projects.
ZETHU MASEKO, TOTTENHAM ARTIST
Rising star, Zethu Maseko, a young, female, Tottenham-raised artist is a founding member of NLCR and a recent graduate from Fine Art at Goldsmiths University London. Zethu’s work centres conversations around identity, racial and gender politics, de-colonialism and the African diasporic experience. She currently works in the form of tapestry, using quilt, tufting, embroidery and weaving techniques.
Hand made banners and placards made for the BLM rally
Since 2017, Zethu has received many awards for her art practice – the Peter Stanley Prize 2017, Santander Student Impact Award 2018, Young Achiever Future Leader Award 2019, The Nicholas and Andrei Tooth Prize 2020 and has been selected for The New Contemporaries 2020. Below are some of Zethu’s artworks.
Afro Safety Net
Warmed to You
Lordship Hub is proud to be hosting a site specific piece of art work created by Zethu Maseko that offers links between Black History month and the 2020 activities of the Black Lives Matter movement that took place in Lordship Rec. Zethu initially intended to create a piece through engaging others in a workshop process but Covid-19 restrictions interrupted these plans and the result is a more personal response to Black History month 2020.
How did this piece develop?
…Creating this piece is my contribution to the conversations that have been taking place about black identity, black history, racism. I feel there is generally a lack of celebration of the achievements and contributions of Black people to our history here..
I was thinking about that.. getting people involved and making something that celebrates the multiculturalism of Tottenham….how all of us are here together and we each have our own identity’s here which are all informed by our heritage’s, where we came from, and together these form this bubble, this mixing pot of all our different cultures. I wanted to engage with that but when COVID-19 restrictions made it much more difficult to involve other women in workshops as I’d planned… the work became more personal as I thought more about my own heritage (South Africa) and how that is situated here in Tottenham….
The piece commemorates a young woman my age, named Saartjie Bartman, who was taken from the Eastern Cape to London in 1810, to be exhibited for her bodily features. She was exhibited across Europe from the age of 20 until her death aged 25 and then she was dissected and her body parts continued to exhibited in France until 1974. That is 159 years after she actually died. Her story represents how enslaving African people was excused by presenting them as subhuman specimens to be exhibited … so when I was thinking about what I wanted to commemorate with this quilt I’ve found I kept thinking of my own heritage in the cape region, how the objectification of black women’s bodies still continues today and how this is rooted in the colonial and patriarchal gaze.
Why have you chosen the quilt form for this piece?
There’s been a history within feminist art practise of reclaiming the quilt as an art form. It’s a feminine medium. A feminine technique. There’s a strong history of Black women in the southern States of America protesting through quilting.
Zethu at work
How does this connect for you with the BLM movement that was expressed in Lordship Rec this summer?
There’s so many similarities between police brutality in USA and here. Our community here in Tottenham is over policed. We live in a racist society. There were so many other conversations – such as how we address police violence or decolonialise our streets – that I have not referenced here. The exhibition does also include a reparations banner, to highlight one of these more recent conversations that’s been going on locally. This banner was made through workshops held in Lordship Rec during the Black Lives Matter meetings and taken to a protest in Brixton. It says ‘you’re lucky we only want reparations and not revenge’ and I think once you know the story of Saartjie Bartman, it raises the question of how something like that could ever be reconciled.
What is your aim as an artist and founder of North London Creative Resistance group?
I feel like art is a means to have a conversation or to continue a conversation and to make the conversation more accessible, to more people …the practise of engaging in a workshop is usually an empowering one ..so for me it is a way of mobilising people, empowering people and giving people a space to express their experiences …
Growing up and living in a community that has been under-resourced, underfunded, under-supported… I’d say looked down upon and dehumanised by the rest of London. .. makes me want to bring more visibility to Tottenham. I love my area, I love my community and I know there’s many incredible, amazing people here who just need to be given the space. I want to give back to it and I want to empower it.
Now open every day from 11-4pm except Thursdays. Pay us a visit and view the exhibition. Toilet facilities are now available to cafe customers.
COVID-19 restrictions: controlled entry to keep everyone safely spaced. Everyone will be expected to give their track and trace details, use hand sanitiser and wear masks on entry. Respect minimum social distancing throughout and please follow Hub rules.