Soul Of A Nation - Two Worlds Collide
MONARCH MAGAZINE|Fall 2017

Babou Ceesay and Zoe Whitley come together to discuss Tate Modern’s powerful new exhibition of “Black Soul Power”

Babou Ceesay & Zoe Whitley
Babou Ceesay, who plays reluctant hero Marcus Hill in the hit Showtime series Guerrilla, joins art curator Zoe Whitley for a conversation about the similarities between the new exhibition “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” and the drama, which explores how black artists in America sought to define themselves.

Dual identity lies at the heart of this exhibition, looking at how black artists in the U.S. from 1963 to 1983 sought to define their art at a time when race was a byword for social and political unrest. The issues they faced were also being played out across the pond. This is the background against which John Ridley’s mini-series, Guerrilla, takes place.

Babou Ceesay: What is it about this project that excited you?

Zoe Whitley: What drew me to “Soul of a Nation” was the chance to give artists a voice to be heard and a platform to be understood. Take Frank Bowling, who was British-Guyanese and came to New York in 1966. He, along with artists like Jack Whitten, Joe Overstreet, and Sam Gilliam, revolutionized painting. That’s not an overstatement— yet their names aren’t as well-known as those of their peers.

Cy Twombly, Jasper Johns, Frank Stella, certainly not Andy Warhol. I hope this exhibition is one step toward changing that.

BC: It’s interesting what you’re saying about artistic representation. With Guerrilla, it has become a reflection of whether or not we can get black faces on TV, and even about the definition of what a black face is. There was an outcry about the casting, and actually what came out of that was the lack of opportunity. If we had six Guerrillas being created every year, one alone wouldn’t have to answer every single question.

ZW: In cultural studies, they refer to that as the burden of representation.

BC: Well, we had a very serious burden of representation. We had to get so much right that the voice of the artist could not be pure. Now, I have a slight aversion when I’m about to create work because I think: “Wait, how am I going to write that character so that I don’t make these people angry?” And, “Oh, I need to make sure I represent those people,” and then the story, which is what it’s all about in the end, becomes secondary.

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