The Influence Project celebrates the impact that leading Black musicians have had on contemporary sound and culture, and their enduring creative, social and political influence on new generations of artists. The exhibition is a collaboration between photographer Alexis Chabala and curator Lorayne Crawford.
The collection, on display in MAC's First Floor Gallery, features portraits of over 100 artists, plus a selection of photographs shown publicly for the first time ever. Alexis and Lorayne have captured the characters of these musical icons and their contemporaries through beautiful portraiture, film and sound, offering visitors a unique and important interpretation of musical history.
Lorayne discusses the inspiration behind the photographic project, and the story behind how it first began:
How would you define The Influence Project?
The Influence Project is an ongoing photography project celebrating the impact of pioneering black musicians, who pushed boundaries creatively, socially and politically, whilst simultaneously laying the foundations of contemporary music. It also shows how they continue to inspire a new generation of musicians by highlighting hidden connections.
How did The Influence Project first start?
Alexis and I created the project together six years ago when we realised that many of the musicians we listened to were not very well known, despite their contributions to the industry. We wanted to tell the stories of these artists and highlight their musical importance in a way that would connect people and encourage them to explore the music they listen to. Jazz, R&B, Funk, Afrobeat and Hip Hop is heard now in some form in almost every public space, from restaurants to bars and shops, but often disassociated from the people who create it. The exhibition is a way of bringing this together in a space that everyone can share and enjoy, at the same time as making these important artists more visible.
What was the process in terms of creating the exhibition and why did you decide to present the artworks at MAC?
There was a large amount of project management involved in creating the exhibition, from organising shoots with additional artists, to funding applications, printing, framing and transporting the artwork. Alexis and I shared this between us in the months leading up to the exhibition, working closely with the team at MAC to ensure deadlines were met.
One of my starting points for creating connections and context was the intimacy of Alexis's portraiture and our relationships to these artists who we had gotten to know over time. We wanted the space to feel intimate and almost like a personal introduction to these musicians. I also knew I wanted visitors to hear these connections and stories directly from the artists themselves, so our project film and soundtrack (which you can find on Spotify) were vital elements to include, together with our project partner Whosampled.com connecting the musical dots further. Allsee Technologies also loaned us one of their screens to showcase MusicMap, helping audiences to navigate the connections between genres and the places they originated from.
The space at MAC also gave us the opportunity to include all of the musicians in our project for the very first time. To help visualise, Alexis built a maquette of the gallery so we could work on the design of the space, adding and moving interior walls and playing with scale. This method really helped us solidify our ideas and was also great fun! We gave the final design to MAC and watched their incredible team of technicians create a giant version of our model.
How has The Influence Project been received from visitors?
We've had really positive feedback so far from visitors, friends and many of the artists too. The public are clearly engaging with the Project and several have been in touch directly over the past few weeks. One woman I spoke to said it had brought back so many memories that she’d had quite an emotional response the first time she visited. I also had a lovely phone call from a man who had been to the exhibition twice, taking his young daughters along the second time. He told me all about their favourite portraits and that they had listened to the soundtrack in the car, singing all the way home... It completely made my day!
The Influence Project investigates connections between established pioneers and emerging artists, reaching across time to shape the sounds that we hear today. During our building closure, you can check out The Influence Project online through our Exhibition Walk-through video, and selection of imagery on our website.
Tune in to The Influence Project Spotify playlist - carefully crafted by Lorayne - to immerse yourself further into the music, and connect further with the artwork and the talent behind the tracks.
With thanks to Exhibition Technology Partner Allsee Technologies for loaning equipment, and to Arts Council England for their generous support.