Today’s Black History Month LGBT+ Hero is the photographer Liz Johnson Artur chosen by Sing with Pride soprano Jane who writes…..
I’ve chosen the artist Liz Johnson Artur because through her photography of ordinary lives she is making Black British history and that of the African Diaspora in the present day, documenting ordinary peoples’ lives that would otherwise go unrecorded.
Artur is a Ghanaian-Russian artist based in London. For over thirty years she has been documenting the lives of people from the African diaspora taking photographs across Europe, America, Africa and the Caribbean. Her particular focus has been Peckham, in London, where she lives and works. She calls this ongoing project the Black Balloon Archive, alluding to a 1970 song lyric by Syl Johnson that describes a black balloon ‘dancing’ in the sky, which is how Artur imagines her own movement when taking photographs. The Archive started from Artur’s very personal desire to connect with people, taking a photograph as a record of that meeting. She now sees the work as characterising a perspective that is “missing when it comes to representing and occupying common ground.”
Artur shoots exclusively on film, and her images are printed at various sizes, materialised using traditional photographic techniques onto paper as well as applications onto fabric, tracing paper and cardboard creating what she describes as a ‘visual tactility’. Artur uses these different techniques in the workbooks she has regularly made since she first picked up a camera. Her first solo exhibition in the UK early in 2019 focused on London, where Artur has lived since 1991, capturing the richness and complexity of Black British life. ‘What I do is people,’ Artur says of her work. ‘But it’s those people who are my neighbours. And it’s those people who I don’t see represented anywhere.’
In 2020 as a result of Covid-19, she was one of ten artists to receive a bursary of £10,000 in place of this year’s Turner Prize selected for their significant contribution to British contemporary art. The jury praised this body of work, in particular the 2019 exhibition at the South London Gallery If you know the beginning, the end is no trouble, which focused on her photographs of Black British life including Black-majority churches and Queer nightclubs, presented in a series of installations. She exhibited her photographs alongside live events involving local BAME performers and including recording women’s oral histories.
Her most recent exhibition at the Southbank Centre in December 2019 entitled London is Love represents South London and its residents. She spent time with diverse BAME communities in terms of differently abled people, older people and the LGBT community whilst taking photographs, enabling her subjects to feel acknowlaged. She photographed black transfemininity at the underground bar and cultural space, The Chateau, in an intimate and beautiful way stating that it is the LGBT subjects ‘who in a wider sense for me really represents something that is very much alive in London right now’ in 2019.
Liz Johnson Artur (b. 1964, Bulgaria) lives and works in London. For over three decades, her work has documented the lives of black people from across the African Diaspora. She has exhibited internationally, including group exhibitions at Serpentine Galleries, London, UK; David Nolan Gallery, New York, USA; The Photographers’ Gallery, London, UK; Kunstverein Leipzig, Germany; the 10th Berlin Biennale, Germany; and a solo exhibition at Brooklyn Museum, New York, USA. Her monograph with Bierke Verlag was listed by The New York Times in ‘Best Photo Books 2016’. In 2017 she was nominated for the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize.