What an honour to have curated the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House Black History Month exhibition. I came up with the theme of exploring "Humour as Black Experience." A concept inspired by watching Desmond’s, a black British sitcom produced in 1989, I was intrigued by something I wasn’t well acquainted with, “Black British Humour.” In one story, the Windrush and African immigration were told. Most importantly, I finally saw an intimate space, or rather, the interior of what a black British home looked like on screen. The material objects and intimacy that embodied Black identity that wasn't seen enough on screen. I believe in 2020, we chanted that our lives mattered. We were made to see the effect of a lack of representation in several corners of the world. An absence of our joy, humour, satire, and spirituality. In fact, our sanctuary.

This exhibition captured our diverse experiences, including those of Chagossian natives now living in Britain. Each artist had a story, pointing us to the varied identities of black daily lives. Our family's inner jokes, political banter, and satire that are sometimes incongruous. Beyond the showcase was activating Chatham House's archive, interrogating their revered platform as a political mediator in international affairs. We looked into the archive to curate speeches of African liberation leaders who graced Chatham House to contend for Africa's resources, sanctions on the apartheid regime, and negotiating commonwealth alliances.

Humour as BlackExperience


‘Humour as Black Experience’extends the reading and viewing of black life away from trauma, violence, andstereotypes. A call for provocation on what it means to laugh with or laugh atin a way that carries cultural resonance unique to black lived experience.Whether it is in the banter, jokes, or satire, we are interested in theresonance that humour fuels, which has been part of the embodiment of Blackexperience. In commemoration of Black History Month, we contend that humouritself is political in a way that it garners social interaction or relatabilityembedded in principles. Therefore, it is implied here that our ways of humorousencounter, from the barber shops to stand-up comedy or the cartoons that expressthe inexpressible, are part of our collective social practice. Humour can alsobe disguised as aggression, meaning that we are able to express theinexpressible through jokes. It is from this point of view that we interrogatehumour as a collective experience ranging from political, economic, historical,and social life.

Printed image credit:  Vanley Burke

Chatham House Archive

Artist: Jasmine Thompson and Samuel Ojo

Using Format