Our Queenager tour of Filling in the Pieces in Black with June Sarpong

The Queenager: Eleanor's Letter (November 26th 2023)

Hot off the press - our wonderful Noon gallery visit this morning and other tales

Dear Queenagers

Well today’s newsletter really is hot off the press – I had such a wonderful morning in Chelsea, hanging out with a huge bunch of you at our Noon Tour of Filling in the Pieces in Black at the Saatchi Gallery.

My friend and great Queenager June Sarpong curated the exhibition and hosted us today, guiding us around picture by picture and telling us the stories of the artists and the commissions. I hadn’t realised that all the pictures in the show had been specially made for it and that June had been part of all of that. Her insight and enthusiasm made for a fascinating tour. And it was also so fabulous to see such a big Queenager crowd – thanks to all of you who came, particularly to those of you who said it was the first event you’d come to. It was really special!  Reckon we’ll have to do more Art at Noon on a Sunday… all suggestions of where you might like to go gratefully received.

Now first, a confession: often I can find art galleries a little bit Meh. Not all of them of course, the David Hockney at the Royal Academy where he first displayed his paintings of the Yorkshire woods and hills transformed the way I look at the British countryside. And I also LOVE sculpture -whether its On Form in a garden in Gloucestershire or mighty classical statues in the Archaelogical Museum in Naples. But I can’t remember enjoying an exhibition as much as I did the Filling in the Pieces in Black today and that is all down to June.

She is probably more familiar to all of you as a TV presenter and most recently the BBC’s top diversity tsar. But for this exhibition June wanted to “fill in all the gaps there are in the black narrative”, so there are paintings from Africa but also all over the diaspora from Brazil to Barbados, New York to London.  But the gaps she is talking about aren’t just geographical, they are cultural. There were paintings here celebrating everything from aristocratic black families (no they don’t just exist in Bridgerton but were a huge feature all over the world) to African markets – I was particularly moved by a textured ‘painting’ made out of a plastic rug (the kind that women put their wares out on in markets) and plastic bags (including one from Lidl) which depicted two beautiful female figures. It was an homage by the artist to his ‘aunties’ and his upbringing in just such markets; but it was also beautiful.  Indeed texture – as you can see from the photos –  was a feature of many of the artworks.

I was brought to tears by the late Radcliffe Bailey’s mighty canvas which features a photograph of the Atlantic surrounded by a huge black sparkly square – like looking up into the night sky and seeing the Milky Way and constellations glittering. He died only weeks ago so this is one of his last ever works; June says he intended it to signify ‘both the darkest days of slavery but also the joy, the hope, the optimism of the black community how our dreams couldn’t be quashed’.  Many of the paintings used collage, tapestry, traditional prints and strikingly bright colours, bringing a sense of the unbridled joy of carnival or a hot groovy night club to the space. “We always hear the negatives about the black experience, we aren’t reminded of the fun, the joy, everything from the kind of plastic chairs we sit on in Ghana to the gay black experience, to black artists embracing virtual reality and ballet,  to a top hip hop artist, all in pink, resplendent in a boat on a blue ocean”, she said. Another favourite of mine was a rather fleshy man, nearly naked playing with a VR consul – there was something intimate, vulnerable but also relaxed and confident about it. June says he is all about “male body-positivity” – I’m all in favour of that!

June wanted the exhibition to reflect all that she loves about her culture and the black experience. I’d say that the vibrancy of the art – the  juxtaposition of past suffering with current joy and future possibilities-  was both moving and inspiring. At one point all 50 of us were gathered in front of Nicola Green’s painting of Obama’s Embrace, painted when she accompanied the former president to see his dying grandmother. It shows his head and his arms, stretched out – and there we were truly ‘embraced’ by him, all of there with him, reflected in the frame, his arms around us all. As if the intention of the artist was being played out in the room as we all became part of the picture and the intention.

It was also great to see a crowd from such diverse backgrounds in a London gallery – June said the exhibition’s audience had been ‘unprecedented for the Saatchi Gallery, so many different people have come”.

Today was the last day of the exhibition and I think we gave it a rousing send-off. I just hope June does it again, she’s obviously got a passion and a knack for choosing artists and paintings. And I was also super inspired by the conversations I had with so many of you, hearing about how you are starting businesses in your 50s, going back to study, embracing the empty nest (I miss my kids but am beginning to appreciate the quiet and also how nice it is to have my husband to myself again…and it sounds like I am not the only one). But most of all I heard about how you have found friends within the Noon Community. It was great to see so many different Queenager groups cross fertilising, women who are friends from our Wasing swimming retreats, recognising others from the Noon Circles – and lots of you who so far have been more online members now coming out to attend real life events. It makes me so happy to see you all and realise what a strong supportive community we are creating.

So if you’ve been reading these newsletters for a while and thinking about signing up and haven’t yet, now is a great time! Don’t forget we’ve got a Noon Circle tomorrow night (Monday 7pm at the Soho Flat for Paid Subscribers to this newsletter only, I’ll be sending a reminder out later with the address for new members so don’t worry) and Christmas Drinks there on December 18th.  And we’ve got the amazing Trinny coming to our Noon Book Club on December 11th,  so do join up if you’d like to come to that.

The Queenager with Eleanor Mills is a reader-supported publication. If you’d like to come to Noon Circles, Book Club and other member-only VIP events consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

Remember Paid Subscribers in the UK get a free book from us at least four times a year as well as supporting all the editorial we do on Noon and coming to our in-person events and getting a special discount on our retreats, tours etc.  Talking of which we’ve got three more places left on the Noon ski-trip if any of you fancy it.. Feb 2nd to 7th…2024 beginners welcome. The idea is to ski (gently, I like a boulevard myself but do go bashing down black runs if you want to) drink Vin Chaud and generally have a fun time.  I’ve never been to Grindelwald before, which is in the same valley as Wengen under the Eiger in Switzerland and is where ski-ing first began. My granny used to tell me about ski-ing there in the 1920s when she was a girl: they’d spend all morning walking up the mountains with skins on their skis and then have one run down – and then lunch. She ski-ed into her 80s and still practiced the stem-christie turn she’d learnt on wooden skis as a child. So you really are never too old and it is never too late. (If you don’t fancy ski-ing it’s also fun just to sit in mountain cafes and drink hot chocolate and look at the view… ) And don’t worry you don’t have to walk up on skins anymore there are plenty of lifts!

So everyone, have a fantastic week enjoy all the photos and see lots of you tomorrow!

Love

Eleanor

By Eleanor Mills

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