Legacy Of Black Artists Celebrated At Former TV Studios In Hammersmith

A young man with dreads and sunglasses

The Riverside manufacturing of Job Rockin, written by Benjamin Zephaniah, that includes Zuleika Henry. Picture: Riverside Studios.

When Reuben Esson-Parkes unearthed a photographic goldmine of Seventies/80s Black artists within the Riverside Studios archive assortment, he was impressed to curate an exhibition celebrating the their artistic endeavours.

Black and Gifted is the primary large-scale exhibition of Riverside Studios’ archived assortment; earlier than its present incarnation as a theatre and humanities centre, the Hammersmith venue opened its doorways in 1933 as a movie, then TV, studios — used to shoot every part from Hancock’s Half Hour to Physician Who.  

What sparked Esson-Parkes's inspiration to unveil Riversides's collection was after hearing in an interview poet and musician Benjamin Zephaniah recall that Riverside was a ‘home from home’ for young Black creatives in the 1980s.

Reuben Esson-Parkes, artistic affiliate and curator of Black and Gifted. Picture from Riverside Studios.

In 1976, it grew to become an arts theatre, and it’s from this period that Black and Gifted shines a lightweight on a time when Riverside Studios was a uncommon outlet for Black firms — together with the Black Theatre Cooperative, Talawa and Dance Theatre of Harlem — in addition to performers like Norman Beaton, Yvonne Brewster, Mona Hammond and Lenny Henry.

Reuben Esson-Parkes, Riverside Studios’ artistic affiliate, was impressed to delve into the venue’s collections of images after listening to an interview with the well-known playwright, poet and musician Benjamin Zephaniah, wherein he recalled Riverside as a “dwelling from dwelling” for younger Black creatives.

“The sense of pleasure, hope and countless creativity are evident in these images”

A young couple peering our from underneath a cover

Black Theatre Cooperative manufacturing that includes Roger Morton in One Nice Day. Picture: Riverside Studios.

“For younger Black folks on the time, there have been only a few locations to go. Full cease,” stated Zephaniah through the interview — noting how younger Black theatre and dance practitioners — predominantly artists with African Caribbean heritage — discovered Riverside greater than only a studio.

Esson-Parkes says on his subsequent explorations within the archives, he discovered a wealth of images conveying the ambitions and achievements of Black theatre, dance and music practitioners working at Riverside Studios through the late Seventies and early Nineteen Eighties. “Eye-opening” posters, images and flyers present Black artists being given a platform throughout their early life. “The sense of pleasure, hope and countless creativity are evident in these images,” says the curator.

Esson-Parkes says he found more than he expected – posters, photographs, and flyers, and those featured in them could see those dreams come to fruition by having successful careers within the arts.

Reuben Esson-Parkes unearthing a gold mine of archived images. Picture: Riverside Studios.

Among the many images are these of productions and rehearsals that includes Norman Beaton, one in every of Britain’s most influential Black actors, greatest recognized for his function in Channel 4’s Peckham-based comedy Desmond’s. Earlier than that, Beaton had a profitable profession on Riverside’s stage, and acted in Yvonne Brewster’s debut manufacturing of The Black Jacobins.

There are additionally images from Zephaniah’s dub opera Job Rocking; rehearsal pictures for Mustapha Matura’s Welcome House Jacko; images of Mona Hammond, a Jamaican-British actor and one other co-founder of the Talawa Theatre Firm, who additionally performed in O Babylon! The Musical. Flyers from early Lenny Henry gigs will be seen too, from the time he was carving out his profession as a slapstick comedian.

“What I see in lots of the images is younger, Black and gifted artists who utilised and benefited from the platform that Riverside Studios offered in its distinctive and particular method in being a artistic hub and connecting, embracing and presenting expertise,” says Esson-Parkes.

“I see younger Black women and men with desires and a want to carry out and be heard”

A young couple next to one another - her in a head scarf, him doing to 'OK' sign

Talawa manufacturing of ‘O’ Babylon’ with Zuleika Henry.

The fabric — on show at Riverside Studios till 16 April 2023 — takes the type of a “large picture album”, and Esson-Parkes hopes folks will fall in love with the fabric, and really feel the identical inspiration from it, as he did.

“Within the images, I see younger Black women and men with desires and a want to carry out and be heard,” says Esson-Parkes, “the exhibition shall be putting, alive and nostalgic.”

Esson-Parkes says that a big topic in the arts is diversity and hopes that by looking back upon the diverse range of performers Riverside Studios opened its doors will continue to proper the arts welcoming black performers and their stories.

“Within the images, I see younger Black women and men with desires and a want to carry out and be heard.” Picture: Riverside Studios.

Black and Gifted, Riverside Studios, Hammersmith, 13 March-16 April 2023, free

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