Manchester International Festival 2021: The best of community art, from Cephas Williams to Kemang Wa Lehulere | Manchester International Festival 2021
From local to global, this year’s festival shines a light on Manchester’s diverse communities, with two projects starting in the city but having an international reach. In the words of festival director John McGrath, “The way the artists have used the festival’s opportunity to reflect on life as we come out of lockdown has been inspiring. Our program is very different from what we had almost fully planned at the start of last year, but I hope it feels urgent and fair. “
Portrait of black Brittany
A bold new work offering a vision of black success in the UK – a journey that begins in Manchester
My aim is for this to be the largest series of portraits of Black Britons ever taken, ”said activist and photographer Cephas Williams, announcing his landmark new project, Portrait of Black Britain. Commissioned by the Manchester International Festival, the first series of images features the faces of the people of Manchester who have responded to Williams’ invitation to participate. “This interest in making black people visible is not just to see their faces, but for us to also hear their voices,” he says. “Many of our contributions, many accomplishments and indeed our very existence can sometimes go unnoticed.”
Driving all of Williams’ ambitious and large-scale projects is a real sense of urgency. In 2018, Williams unveiled 56 Black Men: billboard-sized portraits of accomplished black men, all dressed in black hoodies. In the words of David Lammy MP, one of Williams’ subjects, he seeks to “free black men from invisibility”. The murder of George Floyd in 2020 galvanized Williams again – he heard the news as he awaited the birth of his son, shattering his hopes that his baby could be born in a world in which a black man could walk the streets without fear. Subsequently, he published Letter to Sion for his son, outlining his vision for global dialogue, representation and equality. In the same year, he developed the Black British Network, a platform for tangible change, which received support from industry giants such as Sony, Clear Channel and Sainsbury’s.
A large-scale community project, Portrait of Black Britain makes a difference for everyone. “I am taking control of my narrative,” Williams says, “and I ask other black people to join me in reintroducing our presence and our stories into the 21st century.”
Manchester Arndale, July 1–18, free, no ticket required
I love you too
A poignant collection of love letters, located at Manchester’s restored Central Library
Many of us will have been made aware of what we love, what we’ve lost and what we miss over the past 18 months, so the idea of writing a love letter might sound good. . A necessary one, even. So Kemang Wa Lehulere’s tender new work arrives with perfect timing: I Love You Too is a book that brings together hundreds of love letters created by residents of Greater Manchester in collaboration with local writers, with an exhibition of short stories. works by Wa Lehulere. The objects of their affection range from local haunts to loved ones; there are pagans in Glastonbury, the Eiffel Tower, sneakers, manhole covers, live music, netball and the sea.
And these poetic pieces shine with sincerity. “Born of Wythenshawe,” opens a play by Roy, 67, “made in factories, a place where workers like me have been raised by the best joke and the best zest of a Manchester community.” Elsewhere, 23-year-old Holly celebrates Oldham: “A young lady, in her Kardashian loungewear and fluffy pink sliders, goes to newsagents for her queers – looking like a star!”; and Kemoy, 30, always thinks of Miss Evans, his high school tutor – “one of the first to show the kindness of an 11-year-old Jamaican boy.” Designed with the intention of creating a global love library, I Love You Too at MIF marks the start of a new series – one that is fast becoming an international encyclopedia of devotion.
Manchester Central Library July 2-10, free, ticket required