This September, Art on the Underground will present a newly commissioned iteration of Barby Asante’s seminal performative work Declaration of Independence. The performance, taking place at Stratford Tube station at 2pm on Sunday 17 September, will be accompanied by a series of visual artworks situated at Stratford, Bethnal Green and Notting Hill Tube stations.
Declaration of Independence reflects on how declarations, policies and legislations impact our everyday lives. The ongoing project, by London-based artist Barby Asante, brings together women and non-binary people of colour and acknowledges how they are often at the forefront of struggles for equity and social justice.
For this iteration of the work, Art on the Underground have invited Asante to collaborate with TfL employees in a series of workshops to produce a collective script, a new Declaration of Independence for 2023, which will be performed to an audience of thousands this September at Stratford Tube station.
This collaborative, performative and dialogic work will be Asante’s first major commission in public space and will centre TfL employees through a collective process of sharing and learning. A recurrent form and key concept within the work is the circle, as drawn from West Africancommuning traditions. Asante’s circle provides space for dialogue amongst the performers and audiences, to commune, witness, share knowledge, and imagine futures that foreground equity and social justice. By telling their stories, and sharing experiences through performance, the work explores the potential to question existing dominant narratives, reflecting on how the political affects the personal.
As part of this new commission Asante spent time in the photography archives at the London Transport Museum to find images of women of colour at work in different roles across TfL’s history. These found images, including those employed by London Transport’s direct recruitment in Barbados in 1956, are part of the group’s collective process, adding to individual narratives and
enriching the artwork’s examination of postcolonial and migration histories. These archive images also form part of three large-scale visual artworks that will be installed at Stratford, Bethnal Green and Notting Hill Green Tube stations, in which the images are placed in dialogue with words from the ‘Declaration’. Produced on vinyl, these pieces will be set within brightly coloured interconnected shapes and lines, forming new speculative constellations and communicating ideas about histories and futures in a collective voice. Central to this artwork is the development of ways to create and occupy space; installed within touching distance alongside station escalators, and above the Stratford Tube station ticket hall, the previously personal and intimate ‘Declaration’ is propelled onto the public stage.
Alongside the TfL staff participating in the project, Asante invites ongoing collaborators into the development of the work. These include artist and musician, Hannah Catherine Jones; sociologist and Black Feminist, Gail Lewis; psychotherapist and writer Foluke Taylor; artist Baby Blue and
visual artist and music selecta, Innavisions.
Together, the newly written and performed declaration and station artworks foreground black diaspora narratives of non-binary people and women. The work specifically highlights the histories and divisions of labour that have impacted these narratives, capturing the scale and value of this work to London. ‘Declaration’ retells stories of domestic and workplace labour connecting these to wider histories of migration as a legacy of colonialism. The performance demonstrates the importance of collective thinking; by holding public space ‘Declaration’ gives voice to personal narratives and shapes future intentions.
Hannah Catherine Jones
Archive images © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection.
Artwork images © Barby Asante and InnaVisions.