A Quest That’s Just Begun takes its title from a line in Nina Simone’s song ‘To Be Young, Gifted and Black’ which goes: “This is a quest that’s just begun / When you feel really low / Yeah, there’s a great truth you should know / When you’re young, gifted and black / Your soul’s intact.” Fitting for a group exhibition that exists to showcase the talents of Black artists.
Sixteen artists, many of them local to Dundee, have their work displayed on A4 sheets of paper wheat pasted onto the wall of Miller’s Wynd Car Park on the Perth Road of Dundee, locally known as Wooosh Gallery, in collaboration with Generator Projects.
Secretary of Generator Projects Saoirse Anis, who curated the show, said: “It was really exciting to be able to curate an exhibition with so many great Black artists, just because there isn’t that much art by Black artists being shown in Dundee. I think it’s important that we create a functioning system of care for the Black artists that we show and set a precedent to not exclude Black artists from the creative scene. We have to acknowledge the racism of Dundee’s creative scene. We all have work to do, including at Generator Projects, and we hope this is the beginning of making change happen.”
The exhibition gives some of the artists the opportunity to explore how they’ve approached their race and ethnicity in their work. Nicola Wiltshire uses the exhibition to analyse one of her own paintings in ‘Call Of The Void (Enchanted): A Critique’ [left]. Handwritten notes on colour, pose, composition and other elements of the work surround a central image of a woman about to fall. Wiltshire explains that the pose is exploring the feeling of being on the edge of a precipice, a sensation that has become heightened for her during the lockdown. She writes in one section of the work, “I often work from photos of myself (I can find exact pose plus I’m always available). I used to ‘correct’ my hair and skin colour to make the final painting more sellable. Chatted to Olivia Hicks in 2017 and Ana Hine realised this was silly. I now retain my hair and skin colour for these exploratory works.”
It’s clear other artists in the exhibition were also thinking about how to portray themselves, or whether to include themselves in their work at all. Yasmin Davidson occasionally includes herself in her paintings, but her entry ‘Forbes Landing, Our Home’ leaves the suggestions of Davidson and her partner subtle through the decorative touches they’ve made to their home, such as the hanging basket and the pale blue curtains. Zoë Zo, Zoë Guthrie & Zoë Tumika contributed a modified version of their ESA Degree Show work from 2018, a self-portrait that originally read, ““I can picture myself somewhere like this” now reads, “Good Glaswegian Womin”, while Shona Inatimi’s piece is inspired by the politics of hair.
Davidson describes the experience of being in the exhibition as “uplifting and empowering”. She says, “This project is a refreshing celebration of Dundee’s diversity. It’s been really enriching and a great platform to meet other black artists and to share my work in a new light. A Quest That’s Just Begun has made me look at my paintings from a cultural point of view recently and my use of bright colours have made me connect back to my Caribbean routes, it’s something that has always been present in my work but at times I have overlooked. Having a creative city like Dundee vocalise and visually express the issue of racism makes me feel proud and also valued as a person.”
It’s clear that A Quest That’s Just Begun is hugely meaningful for the artists involved. Hopefully Anis is right and this is the start of a wider appreciation for both the featured artists and Black artists in the Dundee creative scene generally.
Words: Ana Hine
Images: Nicola Wiltshire, Zoë Zo, Zoë Guthrie & Zoë Tumika, Yasmin Davidson, Shona Inatimi, Tayo Adekunle, Nat Akinyi, Jacqueline Briggs.