archives, black music, community art, contemporary art

South London Black Music Archive @ Peckham Space

February 11, 2012

If we accept the hypothesis that Africa was the cradle of the human race, it follows that black music predates the invention of the archive.

Yet one of the most compelling aspects of the show at Peckham space is the newness of the exhibits: a Fugees t-shirt, a Cookie Crew album, an Amy Winehouse doll.

The past few decades are the blink of an eye compared with the estimated 50,000 to 100,000 years which have passed since the emergence of homo sapiens.

And not even the ancient Greek origins of archiving seem very ancient compared with that. The word comes from arkheion, which was a house of public records.

One learns from Archive Fever by Jacques Derrida that the arkheion was inhabited by a caste of lawgivers known as the archons. So archives have their roots in law and order.

Ever one for a spot of wordplay, the French writer goes on to flag up the derived Latin word arca, which would be a chest containing stone tablets.

Although not quite bearing the weight of chiselled stone, Barby Asante’s show in Peckham does boast a meticulous and fairly gravitational cataloguing system.

It’s best not to explore much further here the differential meanings of arca, which comes to stand for a cupboard, a coffin, a prison cell, a cistern or reservoir.

But aside from the dusty world of entymology, the title of this show surely resonates with the legendary studios of dub producer Lee Scratch Perry, the Black Ark.

Perry’s Ark was certainly in some senses arcane. And if anyone can clue me up any further about the origins of the name of this studio, I’d be grateful.

A Google search reveals dozens of black history archives, only not so many devoted to music. The art form is not an easy one to seal up via folder, file card, or box.

South London Black Music Archive can be found at Peckham Space until March 24. See gallery website for more details. I have also reviewed this show for Culture24.

2 Comments

  • Reply ben v February 17, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    An excellent exhibition/community project. It’ll be fascinating to see how it develops, both at Peckham Space and, hopefully, beyond.

    Compliments on your Culture24 review. I’ll read the Camber Sands weekender text when I next visit the Archive.

    • Reply Mark Sheerin February 17, 2012 at 12:59 pm

      Thanks for the feedback. Yes, I think it is hoped this project can be toured to other parts of the UK. Be fascinating to see how the contents change.

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