Museums
Jacqueline Springer

London’s V&A East Museum’s inaugural exhibition will celebrate Black British Music. Its curator tells us more


The V&A East Museum – a new outpost of the Victoria & Albert Museum set to open in Stratford, London in 2025 – has announced its first major exhibition, The Music Is Black: A British Story.

Spanning 125 years of Black British music including reggae, jazz, 2 tone, drum & bass, trip hop, grime and UK garage, the exhibition will feature immersive AV, large-scale installations and equipment and musical instruments and personal belongings from some of the musicians featured.

The exhibition will explore the contributions of musicians from early pioneers such as Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Winifred Atwell and Emile Ford to more recent performers including Joan Armatrading, Soul II Soul, Fabio & Grooverider, Goldie, Massive Attack and Tricky. Current musicians including Little Simz, Jorja Smith and Ezra Collective will also be featured.

“Music is the soundtrack to our lives, and one of the most powerful tools of unification,” says Jacqueline Springer, curator of The Music Is Black: A British Story and curator of Africa and Diaspora Performance at the V&A.

“Set against a backdrop of British colonialism and evolving social, political, and cultural landscapes, we will celebrate the richness and versatility of Black British music as an instrument of protest, affirmation, and creativity, and reveal the untold stories behind some of the world’s most popular music of all time.”

Here Springer gives Attractions Management an insight into what to expect from this ground-breaking exhibition.

Why was The Music is Black: A British Story chosen as the V&A East’s launch exhibition?
Music is an intoxicating and relentlessly interesting art form and subject. What better way to demonstrate its power than to trace how music has responded to the political, steered the social and also tapped into memories in exhibition form?

It is fitting because as part of the V&A’s family of sites, V&A East is committed to platforming diverse, global stories, and championing the pioneering and radical visionaries of the past and present. The scale of the contribution Black British music has made to British culture, and around the world, is a story which has often been overlooked, and its impact not given the respect it deserves. The Music Is Black: A British Story will seek to redress this, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in 125 years of Black British music, and engage with the long-overdue national and international stories of how Black music-making in Britain has continued to shape British history and culture across decades.

A key element of the exhibition will be spotlighting the creativity and impact of east London on Black British music across time. East London, of course, held an important place within the industrial framework of the country.

Why is it important to tell the story of Black British music and its contribution to British culture?
Black music, within the West, underpins all contemporary popular music forms. So to tell the story of Black British music is to tell the story of popular music – to see the Black British contribution. What you have are multiple stories, helmed by the talents of Black British-born musicians, producers, singers, rappers and non-Black artists who made/make music within the umbrella of African diasporic styles.

Within this framework, visitors will ‘see’ themselves, within the 125 year timeline. They will also ‘see’ their parents and the music they socialised to, their parents’ parents and possibly their great-grandparents. As such, The Music is Black: A British Story is an all-age exhibition, and by that I mean it’s an exhibition that speaks to all of our ages. When music was it, when it orchestrated mood, social activity, dress, friends, romance and heartbreak. When living for the weekend was framed by melody and lyricism.

This is also an exhibition of our maturation, exploring when songs accompanied the more sober journeys of our lives. Music has always been a companion. How better to celebrate that than to see these journeys illustrated against national and international histories?

What are the biggest challenges of putting together this exhibition?
The biggest challenge was recognising the responsibility – to not be swayed by subjectivities, to create and collaborate on an exhibition that provides comprehension of content but also informs, thrills and moves.

Can you share any details about how you will tell the story of Black British music?
I think it’s best not to spoil the surprise that will be unwrapped when people visit V&A East Museum in 2025. I will say that visitors have the right to expect an exhibition on a par with the V&A’s name – one of acute standards of excellence. Historically accurate, detail rich, visually splendid and teeming with educational, moving content.

I hope that visitors to the exhibition will leave with a renewed appreciation of Black British music-makers. It will be a delight for visitors to see objects and interact with material related to their home cities, to learn about music that forms their personal musical soundtrack, presented to them within the exhibition’s narrative in a way that makes them squeal, nod or beam with pleasure while opening their minds further to what music-makers give to us and leave to history.

Have you been inspired by any other exhibitions? 
V&A South Kensington’s David Bowie Is and current hit exhibition DIVA have been landmark through their narrative embrace of subject and for enlivening the memory of their respective subjects through sound and visual technology. Both exhibitions, through the inclusion of stage costume, performance footage and memorabilia, provided visitors with more than they expected from a music-centred exhibition.

The V&A’s recent Africa Fashion exhibition addressed the challenge of telling large, cross-continental, and global stories centered on Black identity with exquisite emotional and sartorial elegance, while the ICA’s War Inna Babylon tackled compelling topics about state relations in Britain in an emotionally humanising way.

Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Springer

"Music is one of the most powerful tools of unification" – Jacqueline Springer

Credit: Photo: © Normsky, courtesy V&A Museum London
The Music is Black: A British Story will launch when the V&A East opens in Stratford in spring 2025 Credit: Photo: © Jennie Baptiste, courtesy V&A Museum London
Credit: Photo: © Jean Bernard Sohiez, urbanimage.tv
Credit: Photo: © Sam White
Credit: Photo: © Jennie Baptiste, courtesy V&A Museum London
‘Little Simz performs at The BRIT Awards 2022 at The O2 Arena on February 08, 2022 in London, England Credit: Photo by Karwai Tang, WireImage
Tricky will be one of the musicians featured Credit: Photo: © Adrian Boot, urbanimage.tv
Springer was inspired by recent V&A exhibitions including Africa Fashion, David Bowie Is and DIVA Credit: Photo: © Linda McCartney, courtesy V&A Museum London
Credit: Photo: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
The exhibition will celebrate and explore the impact of east London on the evolution of Black British music Credit: Photo: © Adrian Boot, urbanimage.tv
Credit: Photo: © Adrian Boot, urbanimage.tv
Credit: Photo: Hayley Madden, Redferns
Credit: Photo: © Adrian Boot, urbanimage.tv
 


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SELECTED ISSUE
Attractions Management
2024 issue 1

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Leisure Management - Jacqueline Springer

Museums

Jacqueline Springer


London’s V&A East Museum’s inaugural exhibition will celebrate Black British Music. Its curator tells us more

The exhibition will explore 125 years of Black British music-making via photos, artefacts, paintings, film and more Photo: © Dennis Morris, courtesy V&A Museum London
Photo: © Normsky, courtesy V&A Museum London
The Music is Black: A British Story will launch when the V&A East opens in Stratford in spring 2025 Photo: © Jennie Baptiste, courtesy V&A Museum London
Photo: © Jean Bernard Sohiez, urbanimage.tv
Photo: © Sam White
Photo: © Jennie Baptiste, courtesy V&A Museum London
‘Little Simz performs at The BRIT Awards 2022 at The O2 Arena on February 08, 2022 in London, England Photo by Karwai Tang, WireImage
Tricky will be one of the musicians featured Photo: © Adrian Boot, urbanimage.tv
Springer was inspired by recent V&A exhibitions including Africa Fashion, David Bowie Is and DIVA Photo: © Linda McCartney, courtesy V&A Museum London
Photo: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
The exhibition will celebrate and explore the impact of east London on the evolution of Black British music Photo: © Adrian Boot, urbanimage.tv
Photo: © Adrian Boot, urbanimage.tv
Photo: Hayley Madden, Redferns
Photo: © Adrian Boot, urbanimage.tv

The V&A East Museum – a new outpost of the Victoria & Albert Museum set to open in Stratford, London in 2025 – has announced its first major exhibition, The Music Is Black: A British Story.

Spanning 125 years of Black British music including reggae, jazz, 2 tone, drum & bass, trip hop, grime and UK garage, the exhibition will feature immersive AV, large-scale installations and equipment and musical instruments and personal belongings from some of the musicians featured.

The exhibition will explore the contributions of musicians from early pioneers such as Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Winifred Atwell and Emile Ford to more recent performers including Joan Armatrading, Soul II Soul, Fabio & Grooverider, Goldie, Massive Attack and Tricky. Current musicians including Little Simz, Jorja Smith and Ezra Collective will also be featured.

“Music is the soundtrack to our lives, and one of the most powerful tools of unification,” says Jacqueline Springer, curator of The Music Is Black: A British Story and curator of Africa and Diaspora Performance at the V&A.

“Set against a backdrop of British colonialism and evolving social, political, and cultural landscapes, we will celebrate the richness and versatility of Black British music as an instrument of protest, affirmation, and creativity, and reveal the untold stories behind some of the world’s most popular music of all time.”

Here Springer gives Attractions Management an insight into what to expect from this ground-breaking exhibition.

Why was The Music is Black: A British Story chosen as the V&A East’s launch exhibition?
Music is an intoxicating and relentlessly interesting art form and subject. What better way to demonstrate its power than to trace how music has responded to the political, steered the social and also tapped into memories in exhibition form?

It is fitting because as part of the V&A’s family of sites, V&A East is committed to platforming diverse, global stories, and championing the pioneering and radical visionaries of the past and present. The scale of the contribution Black British music has made to British culture, and around the world, is a story which has often been overlooked, and its impact not given the respect it deserves. The Music Is Black: A British Story will seek to redress this, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in 125 years of Black British music, and engage with the long-overdue national and international stories of how Black music-making in Britain has continued to shape British history and culture across decades.

A key element of the exhibition will be spotlighting the creativity and impact of east London on Black British music across time. East London, of course, held an important place within the industrial framework of the country.

Why is it important to tell the story of Black British music and its contribution to British culture?
Black music, within the West, underpins all contemporary popular music forms. So to tell the story of Black British music is to tell the story of popular music – to see the Black British contribution. What you have are multiple stories, helmed by the talents of Black British-born musicians, producers, singers, rappers and non-Black artists who made/make music within the umbrella of African diasporic styles.

Within this framework, visitors will ‘see’ themselves, within the 125 year timeline. They will also ‘see’ their parents and the music they socialised to, their parents’ parents and possibly their great-grandparents. As such, The Music is Black: A British Story is an all-age exhibition, and by that I mean it’s an exhibition that speaks to all of our ages. When music was it, when it orchestrated mood, social activity, dress, friends, romance and heartbreak. When living for the weekend was framed by melody and lyricism.

This is also an exhibition of our maturation, exploring when songs accompanied the more sober journeys of our lives. Music has always been a companion. How better to celebrate that than to see these journeys illustrated against national and international histories?

What are the biggest challenges of putting together this exhibition?
The biggest challenge was recognising the responsibility – to not be swayed by subjectivities, to create and collaborate on an exhibition that provides comprehension of content but also informs, thrills and moves.

Can you share any details about how you will tell the story of Black British music?
I think it’s best not to spoil the surprise that will be unwrapped when people visit V&A East Museum in 2025. I will say that visitors have the right to expect an exhibition on a par with the V&A’s name – one of acute standards of excellence. Historically accurate, detail rich, visually splendid and teeming with educational, moving content.

I hope that visitors to the exhibition will leave with a renewed appreciation of Black British music-makers. It will be a delight for visitors to see objects and interact with material related to their home cities, to learn about music that forms their personal musical soundtrack, presented to them within the exhibition’s narrative in a way that makes them squeal, nod or beam with pleasure while opening their minds further to what music-makers give to us and leave to history.

Have you been inspired by any other exhibitions? 
V&A South Kensington’s David Bowie Is and current hit exhibition DIVA have been landmark through their narrative embrace of subject and for enlivening the memory of their respective subjects through sound and visual technology. Both exhibitions, through the inclusion of stage costume, performance footage and memorabilia, provided visitors with more than they expected from a music-centred exhibition.

The V&A’s recent Africa Fashion exhibition addressed the challenge of telling large, cross-continental, and global stories centered on Black identity with exquisite emotional and sartorial elegance, while the ICA’s War Inna Babylon tackled compelling topics about state relations in Britain in an emotionally humanising way.

Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Springer

"Music is one of the most powerful tools of unification" – Jacqueline Springer


Originally published in Attractions Management 2024 issue 1

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