How Great Thou Art – 50 Years of African Caribbean Funerals in London

The photographs of Charlie Phillips

Dorfman Foyer and Wolfson Gallery

Sat 21 April until Sat 26 May (Dorfman Foyer) and Wed 27 June (Wolfson Gallery)

 

To coincide with the opening of Natasha Gordon’s new play, Nine Night, in the Dorfman Theatre, the National Theatre presents How Great Thou Art – 50 Years of African Caribbean Funerals in London, an exhibition of photographs taken by Charlie Phillips.

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Charlie Phillips arrived in London in 1953. In the early 1960s he was given a camera by a Black American GI stationed in Notting Hill, and quickly set about photographing the lives of the African Caribbean community around him.

A lifetime project documenting the changing cultural rituals surrounding death in his community began when he attended his Aunt Susie’s funeral in 1962. His work is a loving celebration of the traditions and cultures of the African diaspora in London.

Phillips has witnessed significant changes and emerging traditions in burial and mourning practices. From the rituals of nine night to the establishment of specialist black funeral directors and the booming business of burying and celebrating the dead.

The title for the exhibition is taken from one of the most popular hymns sung at funerals by the Afro Caribbean Community in Britain. Nowadays sung alongside popular songs, the words are known by everyone and continue to bring people together across generations.

Charlie Phillips said: “How Great Thou Art has been a lifetime’s ambition for me. I have had to be sensitive in praising the life of an individual, whilst capturing the social and emotional traditions that surround death in my Afro Caribbean community.  We are honoured that the National Theatre felt the work resonated enough to exhibit alongside Natasha Gordon’s play Nine Night in the Dorfman Theatre.”

Nine Night in the Dorfman Theatre opens on 30 April.

A talk with Charlie Phillips will take place alongside this exhibition:

Photographer Charlie Phillips talks How Great Thou Art

Sat 12 May, 5 – 6pm, Cottesloe Room, £7/£5

Photographer Charlie Phillips in conversation about his career and his exhibition of photographs in the Dorfman Foyer and Wolfson Gallery.

nationaltheatre.org.uk/talks

Entry to the exhibition is free.

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