For the past three decades, the Russian Ghanaian artist Liz Johnson Artur (b. 1964) has been photographing people of African descent around the world. She began what she calls her Black Balloon Archive in 1991 after visiting Brooklyn, where she stayed with a Russian family in a predominantly Black neighborhood. Having grown up in Bulgaria, Germany, and Russia, the artist was inspired by the experience to use photography as a way to connect with other people, and her intimate pictures capture the multiplicity of everyday life in Africa, Europe, North America, and the Caribbean.
Dusha, the Russian world for "soul," features a selection of photographic works, sketchbooks, and videos drawn from Johnson Artur's Black Balloon Archive. The exhibition includes some of her most iconic pictures from the past thirty years as well as new photographs, such as portraits of people associated with a monthly East London club night called PDA, or Public Display of Affection. A copious selection of the artist's notebooks, filled with photographs and sketches, highlights the ways in which she has organized and conceptualized her Archive since the early 1990s.
Central to Johnson Artur's practice is her engagement with people, meeting them and "seeing them as individual stories." Two videos and a sound installation show how the artist foregrounds the unique voices of her subjects. Real...Times (2018) weaves together various narratives from London's many different communities—from Windrush protests to the South London creative collective Born N Bread. AfroRussia (2010-19) documents the stories of other Russians of African and Caribbean descent. Finally, a selection of Johnson Artur's portraits of the legendary Ghanaian photographer James Barnor is accompanied by a sound collage.