From exhibitions of leading Black photographers to groundbreaking ballet, here’s our round-up of Black History Month’s cultural and culinary highlights across the UK
If you want to round out Black History Month wandering galleries (and who can blame you as temperatures drop and the nights draw in) then you’re in luck. A wealth of exhibitions are currently on offer, serving up everything from inspiring portraits to moving work by leading Black photographers. At Saatchi Gallery, The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion will showcase the vibrant work of 15 international Black photographers – including Micaiah Carter, Tyler Mitchell, Dana Scruggs, Campbell Addy, Joshua Woods, and Quil Lemons – from October 28.
Tyler Mitchell’s debut solo show in London, Chrysalis, also opened at Gagosian on October 6, and will run through to November 12. Mitchell’s new body of photographs revolve around short stories about young Black life in the American south. In one image, a young woman is circled by a white picket fence; in another, a boy sleeps under a mosquito net. All are shot through with Mitchell’s distinctive, delicate style.
On October 27, meanwhile, Brixton’s Black Cultural Archives launches Transforming Legacies, an exhibition that “showcases a broad selection of some of the most interesting artists within Black British talent, who are commenting on life at present and the potential future(s)”.
Outside London, the acclaimed South African artist Zanele Muholi – who was the subject of a major Tate Modern survey in 2021 – turns the camera on themselves for a series of stunning self-portraits at Glasgow’s Hunterian art gallery, titled SOMNYAMA NGONYAMA: Hail, the Dark Lioness, which runs until November 6. Having documented the lives of Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in South Africa for decades, their “striking, theatrical self-portraits [...] explore the politics of race and representation”, curator and art historian Aindrea Emelife told AnOther earlier this year. What better time to see that in action?
This year boasts a broad range of film releases to celebrate Black History Month, ranging from documentaries on bona fide legends of Black culture, to lyrical arthouse dramas, to full-blown blockbusters. First up is The African Desperate, the debut feature film from multimedia artist Martine Syms, in which Diamond Stingily plays a freshly-minted art school grad who takes a “hilariously abject” trip through a patronising and racist art world – a tale lifted from the director’s own life. Premiered at London Film Festival on October 13, the coming-of-age comedy also hits MUBI on October 21.
Then, there’s The Gravedigger’s Wife, a poetic drama from the Finnish-Somali director Khadar Ahmed. Centred on a Somali family in a moment of crisis, it charts the lengths to which one man will go for the woman he loves – if that sounds like something worth exploring, then look out for UK cinemas screenings from October 21.
If a big, blockbuster cinema experience is more your thing, then why not try Gina Prince-Bythewood’s The Woman King, released last month and still running in many UK cinemas? In case you haven’t caught up with the critical acclaim yet, the historical epic – which stars Viola Davis alongside Lashana Lynch and John Boyega – tells the inspiring story of the Agojie, a group of all-female warriors who fought to save the African Kingdom of Dahomey in the early 1800s.
Maybe you’d rather just stay at home and pop on a documentary, though. If that’s the case, then you can’t go far wrong with Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues, Sacha Jenkins’ tribute to the world-changing jazz musician, told via archival footage and never-before-heard home recordings and personal conversations. The film debuts online on October 28, and will also be screened in person at London’s Cine Lumiere.
Performances and Events
The first annual BLM Fest made its debut at the beginning of the month, bringing music, art, film, and conversations to central London’s Somerset House, with the aim of amplifying voices in the Black community and moving the movement forward while simultaneously trying to “actively lean into joy”. No worries if you missed it, though, because this weekend (October 22), the aptly-named Black Joy Bus will take the festival on the road, stopping off at high streets across London for a series of “creative interventions”, followed by a return to Somerset House for an evening of festivities.
Elsewhere, there’s Theatre Peckham’s Young, Gifted, and Black, a programme of multidisciplinary events – including several new plays – that deal with issues affecting the African diaspora, including Black British identity, friendship, loss, self-discovery, and Black womanhood. This will run until November 2, culminating in a performance by singer-slash-artist Kaia Laurielle.
The Black Feminist Bookshop is a London-based project which also runs popups, events and collaborations. At the tail end of Black History Month, the project’s dedicated book club is teaming up with the Advocacy Academy to explore Black British history through a feminist lens. The Advocacy Academy x The Black Feminist Bookshop Book Club event runs October 27 – stick around for free vegan Jamaican food and a musical, post-event hangout.
Cassa Pancho’s British dance company Ballet Black returns to the Royal Opera House to celebrate its 20th anniversary this year, and this weekend (October 21-23) it will finish a run of two new works at the illustrious London venue. Say It Loud is an autobiographical work that traces the story of the pioneering company’s rise to national acclaim, while Black Sun sets South African choreographer Gregory Maqoma’s work to an original score by Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asanté. Remaining tickets are limited, though, so act fast.
The number of restaurants and other eateries where you could celebrate Black History month is too large to count, but Black Eats London – the UK’s first and only Black-owned restaurant directory – is on hand to help find a spot near you, with options running the gamut from glamorous fine dining to trendy street food.
Some highlights? Well, Mayfair’s Stork offers up a pan-African dining experience with a menu that showcases the migration of African culinary inspiration to almost every continent across the world. Think: signature jerk chicken wings, coal-roasted plantain served with palm, black-eyed peas, and tomato, and pan-fried sea bass with spinach and melon seed stew. The restaurant also currently plays host to work by the designer and artist Franck Tawema, especially for Black History Month.
Adejoké ‘Joké’ Bakare’s Nigerian heritage is at the forefront of Brixton’s Chishuru, having evolved in the last few years from a home chef who hosted dinner parties and supper clubs into the founder of a Brixton-based pop-up that became a permanent fixture following rave reviews in 2020. Nevertheless, the restaurant keeps the food grounded in age-old West African recipes and techniques – diners can expect a spicy selection of locally-sourced fish, seafood and meat, while the Sunday lunch menu is entirely dedicated to Jollof rice.
Outside London, visitors to a 50th anniversary We Are Carnival! party at Manchester Central Library on October 27 will get to taste what the city’s Caribbean food scene has to offer. And, in Scotland, two upcoming Black History Month events will cater to food lovers: at the Beacon Arts Centre Cafe, Southern Fried will see Dr Peggy Brunache lead a celebratory cooking event that looks back on the lives of enslaved Caribbean people via the food they cooked, while Djembe, Food And Stories will celebrate African and Caribbean cultures at Glasgow’s Hidden Gardens.