by Oyin Akande
Tate Britain hosted its final Late of the year 2016 on Friday with an evening at Millbank aimed at exploring family and belonging through an evening of art, music, and conversation.
The evening brought a peculiar object of the past into discussion with more contemporary issues and culture. Inspired by themes of family and identity in the infamous 17th-century painting, ‘The Cholmondeley Ladies’– a popular favourite at the Tate Britain- the night was aimed at creating a conversation around contemporary communities, family, and heritage. The translatability of the image is remarkable. This type of portraiture was very popular in the Elizabethan and early Stuart periods but the linearity and the non-naturalism of the image are very familiar tropes to the contemporary eye.
The painting of the Cholmondeley Ladies is shrouded in an attractive mystery. The artist is unknown and, indeed, the identities of the figures are ambiguous. The image is of ‘Two Ladies of the Cholmondeley Family, Who were born the same day, Married the same day, And brought to Bed [gave birth] the same day’, as the inscription states, yet there is nothing in the genealogical tables either to support or refute the assumption that the subjects were twins or even sisters, which is the general assumption. They might only have married into the Cholmondeley family and the fact that they shared the same birthday could be explained as pure coincidence. Nevertheless, they share a strong resemblance.
A superficial glance will inform you that the figures are identical but the painting plays games and you are continuously finding idiosyncrasies with increased familiarity with the work.
Nadine Ijewere’s work offers such an interesting dialogue with the 17th-century oil painting. The Jamaican-Nigerian photographer struggled with her own mixed identity and the disconnection she felt from her heritage growing up in London. She developed an interest in people and culture and used her photographs to explore it. “I’m interested in how other people identify and celebrate who they are and where they’re from,” she explains.
Ijewere started Same//Difference, a personal project, to explore family and heritage through physical traits of siblings. Her project mainly documents non-Caucasian women as she hopes to give a platform to under-represented ethnicities and identities. She is interested in sisters stating that ‘being a sister and having sisters is special. Sisters share strong bonds. And that bond stretches further too, between women, uniting them and helping them recognize the beauty within one another’, in an interview with i-D magazine earlier this year.
I am a particular fan of the way she uses closeness and intimacy in the photographs. Her subjects are in contact with each other in away, perhaps only siblings can be. Faces are typically touching, sisters are in a comfortable embrace- one sibling might subtly mirror the other . The obvious resemblances of the siblings are only highlighted by the beauty of their differences. Next to on another, these sisters exhibit and celebrate their collective heritage. But as the eye moves across the image, almost disconcertedly, you discover their individualisms. And it is mystifying.
Elements of the Same//Difference project has also recently been used in the Gap #doyou Fall 2016 campaign.
Late at the Tate:Generation also featured a photography exhibition documenting black diasporic communities in London in the 60s and 70s, ‘Stan Firm Inna Inglan: Black Diaspora in London, 1960-1970’, featured eight photographers: Raphael Albert, Bandele ’Tex’ Ajetunmobi, James Barnor, Colin Jones, Neil Kenlock, Dennis Morris, Syd Shelton and Al Vandenberg, whose photographs were as varied as their backgrounds and experiences of London. Many were vibrant, such as the nightlife culture and the interracial couples that fascinated Ajetunmobi after he stowed away to London from Nigeria, and the large community living in an Islington council housing project that features in former dancer of the English Royal Ballet Colin Jones’ The Black House 1973-76. But they could also be dark, such as the work of Dennis Morris- the photographer famous for his images of Bob Marley– whose London certainly appears more bleak and dangerous. The exhibition is a documentation of community through the literal lens of people within these communities. It is interesting to think how these fit next to the prevailing narratives that have been handed down to us about black communities of this time. The exhibition marks a moment where control over our representation was returned to the black man (literally ‘men’, would have been great to have some female names).