Past & Present – Nadia Denton’s Extensive Tour of Black Heritage & Culture

Nadia Denton – “I interpret different pieces of art – from paintings, to busts and tapestries speculating on the Africans depicted…”

Over the years, Diversity Business has been proud to share the uplifting stories of so many inspiring women who are changing the way we do business. Through their own innovation and ingenuity they are breaking the rules to create a more heart-centred, inclusive business environment. 

As part of International Women’s Day celebrations on 8th March, we are proud to feature yet another leader. Nadia Denton is changing the way we interpret art as well as broadening opportunities to view independent Black films through her work as a curator. You may have already seen her tour ‘The African Gaze’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum. (See Diversity Business Snapshot Page for more details). If you haven’t (and it’s not something to miss) you can learn more about it and Nadia’s career in this recent interview.

The tour looks at the African presence in Europe during the 17th and 18th century. I interpret different pieces of art – from paintings, to busts and tapestries speculating on the Africans depicted, how they have been represented and why they might have been in Europe. The aim of the tour is to show not only that the African body was a source of inspiration to European artists at the time but also to educate people about the fact that there were small communities of Africans who were part of the fabric of European society at this time.

I imagine it’s a gigantean task but how did you select the art works and how were you able to piece together information of the African’s depicted?

Of the approximate 1100 objects on display in the V&As Europe 1600 – 1815 galleries there are only about a dozen or so that depict persons of African descent so it was not that difficult! What was more of a challenge was doing the research and developing a narrative that would resonate with members of the public who may not be familiar with the history of the period.

What was the most significant ‘find’ in your opinion about Africans during this period? Were Africans always in the background or secondary characters to Europeans?

There are so many. There are a number of notable Africans who were part of prominent aristocratic and royal courts. It is without question that the Africans who are depicted were seen through a European gaze but the fact that their presence has endured and been immortalised in these impressive works of art says something about their position in Europe at that time.

Your work as a tour guide at the V& A forms part of your wider role to enlighten the public about African Heritage. You have been working as a curator of films for many years.  Please tell us about your current project ‘Beyond Nollywood’ which you are presenting at the Rotterdam Film Festival this year?

BEYOND NOLLYWOOD is a coin I termed to refer to new wave cinema coming out of Nigeria and its diaspora. It refers to indie, animation, experimental, documentary films and music videos; work that subverts Nollywood both in content and style. It is also the subtitle of a book I wrote in 2014 The Nigerian Filmmaker’s Guide To Success: Beyond Nollywood and also refers to a series of events I have curated at the British Film Institute. I presented BEYOND NOLLYWOOD at the 47 International Film Festival of Rotterdam in January of this year.

Beyond Nollywood Weekender

What films have particularly touched you in this project and why. How can the public view the films?

Green White Green (Dir: Abba Makama). It is the first true art house film to come from Nigeria and shows the society in a way that has never seen in Nollywood. It is available on Netflix. A number of the short films that we have screened are available online on YouTube.

You are also the British Council UK lead curator for the UK/Nigeria Film Connections programme. Tell us more about the project and who it’s for?

Film Connections is an initiative from the British Council that seeks to create a bridge between the British and Nigerian film industries. Film Connections includes screenings, workshops and film industry networking sessions. The first segment of the programme took place at the Africa International Film Festival (Lagos) in Nov 2017 where 12 UK films were shown and 5 UK filmmakers brought over to Nigeria. The UK leg (with Nigerian content) is slated to take place at the British Film Institute in the late summer. The programme is both for filmmakers and audiences who have an interest in the UK and Nigerian film industries.

After all the talk about diversity in the Hollywood industry. How does the Nigerian film industry fare with regards to women in front and behind the camera? Are interesting female voices and narratives coming through?

There are a number of notable female voices rising behind the camera. They include individuals such as Mo Abudu, Michelle Bello, Mildred Okwo, Kemi Adetiba and Tope Oshin. Many of them were interviewed as part of a BBC World Service documentary I co-produced titled Shooting it Like A Woman which looks at the role of Nigerian women behind the camera in the context of gender equality in Nigeria.

A panel discussion at the BFI

I love the title of your book ‘The Nigerian Filmmaker’s Guide to Success’ which is almost like a sequel to your first book The Black British Filmmaker’s Guide to Success: Finance Market and Distribute Your Film. So briefly what are the key points to success? Is it still a tough world out there for film makers?

People will have to read the book(s) to find out the keys to success! My first book The Black British Filmmaker’s Guide is available as a free download from my website

Of course success is relative but the guides address how filmmakers can increase their chances of success in the key areas of finance, marketing, development, exhibition and distribution.

It is a tough world out there for indie filmmakers with the rapid pace of change. Though advancements in digital technology have led to more access and choice it has in some cases saturated the market making it harder for indie filmmakers to be found. There is also the challenge of revenue generation from online and certainly in some parts of the worlds, such as the African continent people have varied access to the internet.

Conversely, we are entering an age where Africa’s youth population gives it an advantage. If young people on the content can be increasingly innovative in their use of digital technology and see it as a means to create a new cinematic form they could be onto something.

How did you get into curating as a career? What have been your highlights so far?

I started out running a film club at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in 2004. I knew nothing about film but got a buzz from the public engagement aspect. What started out as a hobby just grew and grew. I did not start out knowing it would lead to the career that I have right now but let’s say that it was a happy accident!

For more about Nadia Denton see:

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