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Sharing the emergence of the Rastafari movement in Britain

NEW EXHIBITION: Rastafari in Motion tells the rarely told story of the presence of Emperor Haile Selassie I (pictured) and the emergence of the Rastafari movement in Britain

THE BLACK Cultural Archives (BCA) will become the first to present a groundbreaking exhibition on the Rastafari movement to UK audiences.

First exhibited at the National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa in 2014, as part of an international collection, the Rastafari in Motion exhibition has travelled to Jamaica in April 2016, and will be on display at Black Cultural Archives until September 10 2016.

This new exhibition tells the rarely told story of the presence of Emperor Haile Selassie I and the emergence of the Rastafari movement in Britain.

Co-curated in partnership with Rastafari Regal Livity, Rastafari in Motion is a timely presentation that celebrates the 80th anniversary of Emperor Haile Selassie’s appearance before the League of Nations. Imperial competition between Britain, France, and Italy on the borders of the Ethiopian empire led to increased diplomatic relations in Europe.

In October 1935, Italian troops invaded Ethiopia, and the newly appointed Emperor Haile Selassie I approached Britain to seek protection. The British government unofficially offered Him residency at Fairfield House in Bath. He spent four years in Bath and during his stay on June 30 1936 he appeared before the League of Nation.

Selassie’s address to League of Nations appealed for protection of Ethiopia and also raised awareness of the international morality. The overwhelming support from British public was demonstrated in rallies across the major cities, and even rural parts of the country. One of the leading advocates included feminist Sylvia Pankhurst, who published New Times and Ethiopia News, one of the only British newspaper to cover the speech.

Highlights in the exhibition include a five-page article in the Illustrated Magazine (1941) written by Sylvia Pankhurst documenting Emperor Haile Selassie time spent in exile in Britain, and footage of His speech to the League of Nations.

This in-depth exhibition sheds light on the relationship between Britain and the Ethiopia, and the historical context for the emergence of the Rastafari movement in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s. The emergence of ‘Rasta’ in Britain is intimately connected to the movement in Jamaica, and the cultural influences on the post-Windrush generations.

The post-Windrush second generation found themselves feeling displaced and alienated from mainstream British society, and drew inspiration from the philosophies of black pride and identity cemented in the foundation of the Rastafari beliefs. The new found identity was fluid, organic and connected them to their Caribbean and African heritage.

Co-founder of Black Cultural Archives Len Garrison published Black Youth, Rastafari and the Identity Crisis in Britain in 1978, and is one of the earliest publications that identified this rising consciousness. Garrison identified the correlations between the black aesthetic, cultural expression, identity, and political agency.

Rastafari in Motion displays early drafts on his work and an array of ephemera that document the growing presence and experiences of the Rastafari community in Britain; including original archives of The Voice of Rasta magazine; as well as more recent archives documenting the legal case appeal of Trevor Dawkins’ refusal to cut his locks, which was brought before the House of Lords in 1993.

Amongst the different mansions within the movement, many of which have differing interpretations, one of the fundamental tenets relates to the ideology of reparations and the ‘Back to Africa’ movement. Rastafari in Motion includes the story of ‘The Book Liberator’ retelling the exploits of Ras Seymour Maclean, who achieved notoriety as he went on one-man crusade to recover the books on African and Ethiopian history from British libraries and institutions.

Rastafari in Motion introduces the mystic world of Rastafari and the guiding principles of this holistic way of life and takes a closer look at the contributions made to British society. The complementary talks and events further explore the movement’s expression through music, art, spirituality, education, and the rise of political agency; and their lasting legacy here in Britain.

Rastafari in Motion at Black Cultural Archives, Brixton
On Display until September 10, 2016. Free admission.
Opening times: Tues-Sat, 10am – 5.30pm (last entry)
Website: www.bcaheritage.org.uk/programme/exhibitions/rastafari-in-motion/
Twitter: @bcaheritage #RastafariMotion #ReclaimingHeritage
Facebook: facebook.com/bcaheritage

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