Our latest heritage project has meant more to Clara then just finding out about the past. Here she talks about the lessons we can all learn from two of her favourite black icons – Paul Robeson and Una Marson.
Clara, you have chosen two icons to inspire your print designs. Can you start by telling us about them?
My first is Paul Robeson, an African-American who came to the UK in the early 20th century from the states. He was a diverse guy – actor, singer, lawyer and activist and he did a lot in the civil rights movement in the 1960s. He’s known on the British scene because of his involvement in the community and politics. He wasn’t just a guy who lived off his fame. He really wanted to get involved with society and how people were treated, especially those from minority backgrounds.
Una Marson on the left
Una Marson was the first black woman and presenter to be employed by the BBC. Also she was a poet, a journalist and a feminist. Some of her poems were very controversial for the time. She was a woman proud to be black, and had her own natural look and authenticity. Most of her poems describe her being a black woman and why it’s so important for men and women to embrace their true blackness.
At the beginning of December our second cohort of heritage volunteers gathered up their sketchbooks and headed to Peckham for a day of screen printing at Sonsoles’ studio.
After some solid days spent researching black icons from the 1920s and 30s at the Black Cultural Archives, British Film Institute and the British Library, it was time to get creative. As with the first group of volunteers, their task was to design a print centred on an inspirational black person from the British jazz period.
From performer Elizabeth Welch to boxer and politician Len Johnson, the young volunteers immortalised their chosen icons in fabric, creating pieces which will later be sewn into giant cushions for the Black Cultural Archives learning centre.
They also printed lengths of cloth (requiring lots of patience and teamwork) to use as installations and wrapped garments for the project’s magazine, which will be produced and distributed to schools next year.
FAD have been busy for the last month running workshops with our Black Icons of the British Jazz Age volunteers.
Aged 16-24 years old the young people involved have been visiting archives across London, to gather information about the lives of black people living in the capital during the 1920s & 30s.
Last month they spent a day at the British Library gathering inspiration from their amazing journals, books and sound archives. The audio interviews in particular gave a fascinating insight into the experience of black people living in British society at that time, and prompted lots of lively discussion.
As the second series of volunteer workshops draw to a close, we catch up with FAD volunteer Angelica to talk about why she is so inspired by 1920s performer and ‘Queen of Happiness’ Florence Mills.
Angelica, you have chosen Florence Mills as your Black Icon. What drew you to her story?
“I was drawn to Florence Mills because of what people called her; The Queen of Happiness. I wondered what she must have done in her life to receive such a title.”
Original image of Florence Mills
Last week a new cohort of young volunteers, taking part in FAD’s Black Icons project , spent the day at British Film Institute (BFI) on London’s Southbank.
The session kicked off with an introduction to the BFI and all it’s programs and facilities by Education Curator David Somerset.
The group (some of whom were well prepared enough to have bought their own pop corn!) settled into a private cinema space to watch specially curated films featuring black Brits from the early part of the 20th century.