The Time is Always Now: A Bold Reimagining of the Black Figure in Contemporary Art

‘Their smiles deserve your smile in return’ by Jordan Casteel’s Yvonne and James, 2017

"Their smiles deserve your smile in return" by Jordan Casteel’s Yvonne and James, 2017

London's National Portrait Gallery is currently hosting an unparalleled exhibition that delves into the representation and narratives surrounding the Black figure in contemporary art. Titled "The Time is Always Now: Artists Reframe the Black Figure," this exhibition, curated by Ekow Eshun, former Director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts, brings together a dynamic range of works by artists from the African diaspora.

At its core, the exhibition is a profound study that transcends mere representation; it is an exploration into the richness and complexity of Black life, portrayed through the innovative visions of some of today's most groundbreaking artists. Featuring luminaries such as Michael Armitage, Lubaina Himid, Kerry James Marshall, Toyin Ojih Odutola, and Amy Sherald, the exhibition not only surveys the presence of the Black figure in Western art history but also critically addresses its absence.

‘Their smiles deserve your smile in return’ by Jordan Casteel’s Yvonne and James, 2017 ‘Their smiles deserve your smile in return’ by Jordan Casteel’s Yvonne and James, 2017

"Nanny of the Maroons' Fifth Act of Mercy" by Kimathi Donkor, 2012 (left)
"Kampala Suburb" by Michael Armitage, 2014 (right)

Eshun's curation navigates through the layers of social, psychological, and cultural contexts that shape these works, offering a narrative that is as compelling as it is necessary. The selected pieces showcase a blend of mediums and styles, each work contributing to a broader conversation about identity, heritage, and the power of representation.

Amid the works that form the core of "The Time is Always Now," Thomas J Price's "As Sounds Turn to Noise" stands out as a testament to the sculptural innovation and thought-provoking commentary on Black identity and representation. This bronze sculpture captures a moment of introspection and strength, as it portrays an imposing figure cast in a reflective posture.

‘Their smiles deserve your smile in return’ by Jordan Casteel’s Yvonne and James, 2017

"As Sounds Turn to Noise" by Thomas J Price, Bronze, 2023

Price's artistic prowess lies in his ability to create sculptures that confront the viewer with notions of power, perception, and historical narratives. "As Sounds Turn to Noise" is not only a physical manifestation of these themes but also a bold invitation to engage with the dialogue around presence and visibility in public spaces. The artwork challenges traditional statuary by prioritizing contemporary, everyday figures, thus reshaping the conversation about who is immortalized in bronze and why.

The exhibition is timely, reflecting a growing recognition of the importance of diversity and inclusion within the arts. It challenges the viewer to reconsider preconceived notions of the Black figure in art, encouraging a deeper understanding of the varied stories and experiences that inform these artworks.

As London continues to assert itself as a global art capital, exhibitions like "The Time is Always Now" play a crucial role in fostering dialogue and understanding across cultures. They remind us that art has the power to unite, to challenge, and to inspire change.

For art enthusiasts, historians, and anyone intrigued by the evolving narratives within contemporary art, this exhibition is a must-visit. It not only highlights the significant contributions of Black artists to the global art scene but also amplifies voices and stories that have long been overlooked.

"The Time is Always Now: Artists Reframe the Black Figure" runs until 19 May 2024 at the National Portrait Gallery, London. It's a pivotal moment in art history, capturing the spirit and complexity of the Black experience through the lens of some of the most influential artists of our time.