How Jem Perucchini's Brixton Mural Reconstructs Lost Narratives

by SHOWstudio on 31 October 2023

Jem Perucchini's Rebirth of a Nation is the latest public artwork to reside in Brixton Underground station at part of the city's Art on the Underground series.

Jem Perucchini's Rebirth of a Nation is the latest public artwork to reside in Brixton Underground station at part of the city's Art on the Underground series.

Culturally, Brixton is as diverse as it gets, a well-known fact that has contributed to the area's richness over the decades. As its story has been slowly sculpted by recent social and political movements, its residents and their past have never been more crucially embedded into the area's history.

Jem Perucchini, 'Senza titolo' (Parche) 2022

However, how open - as a society - are we to the idea that black Britishness existed long before Brixton became known as the place the Windrush Generation settled in? Their histories are undeniably crucial to the modern development of the area, but what about the people who came before?

Asking these questions is Ethiopian-born Italian artist Jem Perucchini with his mural, Rebirth of a Nation, expected to settle into Brixton Underground station this Thursday, 2 November. Commissioned as part of TFL's Art on the Underground series, Rebirth of a Nation challenges society's view of Brixton's roots forming a nucleus for black British history. Instead, Perucchini’s new artwork challenges the timeline of Britain's black history by confronting the naive assumption it stretches no further back than the 20th Century.

Jem Perucchini, 'Pittore Italiano' 2022

Although the allegorical vision embedded in the mural can be linked to Britain's medieval history in aesthetics, as well as the Italian Renaissance - a prime influence in Perucchini's work - there's one source of inspiration that overrides all; a woman known to many as the Ivory Bangle Lady. Of North African origin, the Ivory Bangle Lady's grave was found in York containing rare, imported objects and valuable jewellery, one of which was an elephant ivory bangle. Dating back to the 4th century, this character's very existence is considered proof that the people of Africa had a place in the upper echelons of Roman society with her possessions alone indicating she was amongst the richest inhabitants of the region. Drawing on this reference falls hand in hand with Perucchini's dedication to conveying the idea that early Britain was much more ethnically diverse than we currently know it to be.

In a statement to press, Perucchini reflected on the cultural significance Brixton holds and why a mural that questions the perceived timeline of Black British history belongs in the area's London Underground station:

'For me, Brixton represents a microcosm of London, a place where the community creates a local focus. The Underground station then acts as the main pivot between the centre and the periphery, the inside and the outside of the city. Working on this project has been very stimulating, not only for the opportunity to see my work reproduced in such a large format, but also because of its location in the heart of Brixton, visible by all its inhabitants and those who pass through it.'

Jem Perucchini, 'Sbandieratore' 2021

As for what the public can see, Rebirth of A Nation sets forth a vision of divine symbolism, where a female figure meets her future self in the mirror. Both figures are elaborately decorated in fabrics evocative of African wax cloth - a material interwoven with the skill, artistry and identities of the diverse African diaspora. Through referencing the Ivory Bangle Lady of the 4th century, the construction of national identity is intercepted, questioning why her history isn't as prevalent as others relayed in mainstream media. Who gets to erase bits of the past, and who gets to garner what we keep? A question Perucchini hopes to instil in the minds of the millions of people that are predicted to walk past this mural in the coming year.

The public artwork mural Rebirth of A Nation will go on show at Brixton Underground station on Thursday 2 November.

Jem Perucchini, 'Tappeto' 2022


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