‘In The Black Fantastic’ is the must-see exhibition of summer 2022

On June 29, the Hayward Gallery hosted the opening of the highly anticipated new exhibition In the dark fantasy. Curated by Ekow Eshun, the writer, broadcaster and chairman of the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group, it is the UK’s first exhibition dedicated to the work of black artists who use the realm of the fantastic – including mythology, folklore, spiritual traditions, science fiction and Afrofuturism – to explore racial injustices and identity. In Eshun’s own words, it is “a way of recognizing, a way of looking at the racialized everyday beyond the constraints that the Western imagination has placed on black beings, black personhood, and black experiences.” He continues: “In a world where we are constantly, as black people, subject to the fantasies and myths of others, one of the paths for us is to embrace the fantastic. Not as an escape from reality, but as a way to further explore the possibilities and imaginative scopes of our own experience of being. Basically, In the dark fantasy is to say that there are no finite criteria or barriers to what being black looks like.

Below are the five things you need to know about what’s already being hailed as a pageant.

Television and film provided the initial inspiration

Kara Walker, Prince McVeigh and the blasphemies of Turner2021.Kara Walker, courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York; Sprüth Magers, Berlin.

Eshun specifically quotes Black Panther, Lovecraft Country and get out as key references in the exhibition. “These were works that explored the language of fantasy from a black perspective,” he explains. “They were asking deep questions about race, identity, belonging, otherness, alienation. I was interested in how artists explore this central issue of race as socially constructed fiction and as lived reality using myths or survivals from African culture or spiritual practices. All these artists evoke new worlds, new visions through their work.

A relatively small number of artists are involved

Chris Ofili, Annunciation2006.© Chris Ofili. Courtesy of the artist and David Zwirner

James C. Tibbs