Manchester International Festival hosts a variety of exhibitions, and this year, Cephas Williams, creator of 56 Black Men, Letter to Zion and the Black British Network, took the opportunity to add the Portrait of Black Britain to his rostrum. A public display based in the Manchester Arndale, the free exhibition is Williams’s attempt to ‘tak[e] control of [his] narrative’.
The range of faces, their outlined contributions to society and diverse ethnicities provides representation for all as well as solidarity as a community. The exhibition torpedoes the notion that to be black means to be from West Africa or Jamaica, or boxed into jobs as nurses or musicians – we can be so much more, from company directors to careers. There is an infinite spectrum and Black people all have space on that line.
“It is a reminder of the beauty in identity and diversity, the fact that the Black community is not a monolith” - Cephas Williams
With each picture there is a clear story, taking the cliche of the ‘eyes being the windows of the soul’ and maximising that to capacity. They all have stories, and powerful ones at that, so to have that portrayed was beautiful in both simplicity and power.
I would have loved to see more on the interactive site, as it didn’t add to the experience, instead actually detracting from the beauty of the images. A quote from each person would have been another great addition, as, from a glance, you could tell there was more than a photo on their mind.
This exhibition is a moment to highlight the community to which this conversation belongs. And it is a powerful and positive affirmation that Black Lives Matter. Not just in news stories about trauma or tragedy, nor just during Black History Month – but every day.
Cephas Williams did that in abundance.
For more information https://mif.co.uk/