Liz Johnson Artur, Burgess Park, 2010.
Liz Johnson Artur’s first solo exhibition at South London Gallery, If you know the beginning, the end is no trouble, celebrates the history and everyday lives of black British people and their communities in London.
Artur began taking photographs in the mid-eighties while staying with a Russian family in Brooklyn, New York. It was here that she first picked up a camera and started documenting the African Diaspora traveling across Europe, Africa, the Caribbean and North America. Throughout her career as a photojournalist and editorial photographer for magazines including The Face, Vibe, Arena, The Fader and i-D she has continuously added to her personal project Black Balloon Archive which takes its name from the 1970s song by Syl Johnson that describes “a black balloon dancing in the sky”. This, Artur has claimed, is how she imagines her own movement when taking images of the people around her, according to an interview with Vogue.
Installation view of Liz Johnson Artur: If you know the beginning, the end is no trouble
at the South London Gallery, 2019. Photo: Andy Stagg
The main space at South London Gallery separates these works into four themed installations using bamboo and mixed fabrics.
Library is situated at the start of the exhibition and represents the core of Black Balloon Archive, with photographs on display that have been printed on an array of materials including leather, acetate and felt. Next is Peckham, which focuses on the South London borough currently going through its own gentrification and home to the artist and her studio. The third is Community, where we see one of Artur’s earliest works taken in 1991 at a church in Elephant and Castle.
Liz Johnson Artur, Elephant and Castle, 1991.
As I walked through the show, I instantly felt that I recognized these images, not because I had seen these works before, or knew the faces of those in them, but because I shared some of the experiences depicted within them. I recognized the MCing competitions that took place at Grime raves, the aunties dancing at Nigerian weddings, the churches and the communities I would so often see on own my local high streets growing up in London.
Liz Johnson Artur, Under 18s Rave, East London, 2003.
Liz Johnson Artur, Nigerian Party 2, 1995.
The final section of the exhibition is titled Women’s Corner, looking at Artur’s most recent body of work which celebrates London’s Black LGBTQ+ community. As host of the images were taken at non-binary club night PDA and is accompanied by a sketch book and hanging hair sculpture by Virgine Pinnto Moreira.
Liz Johnson Artur, Women’s Corner, 2019 (detail).
Installation view at the South London Gallery, 2019. Photo: Andy Stagg
About Liz Johnson Artur
Born to a Russian mother and Ghanaian father in 1964 and having moved several times growing up, Artur knows first-hand what it is like to feel like an outsider. With the heavyweight of Brexit and the 2018 Windrush scandal, which saw hundreds of British Citizens who migrated from the Caribbean in the late 1940s suddenly have their citizenship questioned, the show also serves as a commentary on migration, allowing some audiences the opportunity to look back and consider how much may or may not have changed.
If you know the beginning, the end is no trouble is a personal and intimate record of Artur’s efforts to capture the people she sees in her everyday life. These photographs depict the so often mis-represented black communities in London. Her images provide another means of seeing black people and how they can be presented in the gallery space, which have a history of being seen ‘other’ or ‘unwelcomed’, in a welcomed contrast, these portraits display a refreshing narrative as they represent nothing ‘other’ than themselves.
Liz Johnson Artur, Brixton, 2010.
If you know the beginning, the end is no trouble is on display at South London Gallery from 13 June until 1 September 2019.
All images courtesy the artist. See more on Liz Johnson Artur’s Instagram @lizjohnsonartur.