Southend Museums announces exciting acquisition of artwork by artist Elsa James

Southend Museums are delighted to announce the acquisition of ‘The Black Essex Flag’, a representation of the Essex flag depicting three black swords of leather, satin and metallic materials on a black background, which is now part of the Beecroft Art Gallery’s permanent collection.

The front of the Beecroft art gallery.

The artist, Elsa James, has a strong connection with south east Essex and the Thames Estuary region and has been involved in a number of collaborations with the gallery in recent years. James coined the term ‘Black Girl Essex’ and has combined exploration of history with representations of black voices in modern Essex through various media including film and art. The artwork intends to change narratives around the place of women of colour in Essex and particularly for the artist it represents the experience of a British African-Caribbean woman living in Essex.

The Black Essex Flag has been purchased with support from SHARE Museums East and Arts Council England Acquisitions Grant, the Art Fund and the Arts Council England and V&A Purchase Grant Fund. Southend Museums are grateful for the support of these organisations in allowing them to make this important acquisition.

The Black Essex Flag will provide a welcome addition to the existing narratives and subjects explored in the Beecroft Gallery’s collection, representing a new voice that reflects our local history, art and culture. James said that the Black Essex Flag was created to ‘enable black voices in Essex to be heard’ as ‘they have never been part of the Essex narrative’. Southend Museums, along with Southend-on-Sea City Council, are keen to support black voices being heard and recognised as an integral part of the culture of our local area and county.

As the piece takes the format of a flag and therefore acts as a symbol of identity, James’ work draws upon the traditional emblem of Essex and contrasts the representational narrative of that flag with her own experiences of living in Essex. The flag acts as an emblem for change and is a powerful piece of work that has proved popular in previous exhibitions and will continue to engage audiences upon return.

Cllr Carole Mulroney, cabinet member for culture, tourism and the environment, said: “It will be wonderful to welcome the Black Essex Flag to the Beecroft Art Gallery’s permanent collection. Southend is very diverse and culturally rich, so it’s great to see more representation of this through the arts. I hope that residents and visitors to Southend will come to see the flag and take part in the wider conversation surrounding inclusivity in our city and county.”

The Black Essex Flag is currently on display at the Focal Point Gallery as part of James’ first major solo exhibition, named ‘Othered in a region that has been historically othered’. The exhibition will run until Sunday 18 September with the Black Essex Flag subsequently returning to the Beecroft Art Gallery where it will feature in our semi-permanent ‘Colour’ exhibition in the Autumn.

The Beecroft Art Gallery is free to enter. More details on the gallery and it’s exhibitions can be found on their website: Beecroft Art Gallery | Southend Museums

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Published: 26th August 2022

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