Transport London’s contemporary public art program, Art on the Underground, offers a new immersive art experience to thousands of travelers with the performance art piece “Declaration of Independence“. This Sunday, September 17, 2023, Stratford Underground station will play host to this landmark performative work by artist Barby Asante. For a more comprehensive and impactful visual rendering, the performance will also be accompanied by a series of visual artworks located in Stratford, Bethnal Green and Notting Hill tube stations.
Artist, educator and researcher, Barby Asante is a London-based player in the field of contemporary art, who turns her art to politics. Indeed, her artistic practice and research are sacralized around politics, regardless of temporal and earthly referential.She is also interested in the histories and legacies left by slavery and colonialism.The performance “Declaration of Independence” follows the same logic as her artistic practice. It is a reflection on the impact of legislation, policies and declarations on our daily lives. The work is the fruit of collaboration between the contemporary artist and employees of TFL (Transport for London). To add depth to her performance, Barby Asante brings together women as well as non-binary individuals of color, characters who are often at the heart of activism for social justice and equity.
“Declaration of Independence” represents the contemporary artist’s first major commission and invitation to London’s public space. To mark this new edition of the project, Art on the Underground is inviting Barby Asante to present her collaboration with TFL employees in a series of workshops to devise a new collective scenario signing the Declaration of Independence for the year 2023. The performative work will be exhibited to thousands of individuals occupying the travel space of the Stanford subway station. Through a collective process of sharing, learning and dialogue, the artist draws visitors’ attention to a key concept in his work the circle.
This circle, intrinsic to the traditions of communion in West Africa, refers to a space conducive to dialogue, where travelers are invited to participate in an active discussion with the artist on a range of subjects, including the promotion of a future marked by equity and social justice. In a warm and engaging atmosphere, the performative work invites everyone to share their experiences and knowledge, to tell their stories, to analyze existing, dominant narratives, and to question the impact of politics on the personal.
To enrich her performance, Barby Asante is scouring the London Transport Museum’s photographic archives for images of women of color who have held various positions in the TFL’s history. These images, in addition to individual testimonies, contribute to the group’s collective processes and serve to provide a deeper study of the postcolonial history and migratory narratives addressed in the performative work. Photographs recovered from the archive are also included in the three large-scale visual artworks exhibited at Stratford, Bethnal Green and Notting Hill Green tube stations. The works will be produced on vinyl and stored diagonally with the words of the “Declaration” in interconnected lines and angles of shimmering color. This form of presentation offers a unique visual akin to abstract constellations sharing ideas about the history and future of a collective stamp.
Barby Asante also invited outside characters to participate in the project, in addition to TFL employees. For example, the performance involved outside collaborators such as artist and musician Hannah Catherine Jones, sociologist and black feminist Gail Lewis, psychotherapist and writer Foluke Taylor, artist Baby Blue and visual artist and musician Innavisions. The exhibition space was also studied to determine the ideal positioning of each work for best visual impact.
Barby Asante’s “Declaration of Independence” exhibition highlights the Black diasporic narratives of non-binary people and women. Through her collective performative work, she precisely addresses all the significant narratives that have had an impact on the historical evolution of the station, highlighting the value of this work for the city of London. The contemporary artist also makes a connection between colonial heritage and migratory narratives, underlining the importance of collective thinking.