Beyond the Bassline

British Library
Art direction Exhibition graphics

Traversing musical genres, from classical, gospel and jazz through to reggae, jungle and afroswing, Beyond the Bassline is the first major exhibition to document the 500-year musical journey of African and Caribbean people in Britain. The exhibition moves beyond solely celebratory aspects of Black creativity to recover the complex social and political processes that transformed the landscape of British popular culture.

Our approach was to blur boundaries between the exhibition themes and show the intersectionality of music, history and human connections. In designing the exhibition, we placed equal importance on sound and silence; our aim was to underscore the significance of oral tradition alongside the weight of undocumented Black history. Visitors journey through a space where echoes of the past converge to enrich British culture.

Dynamic and in constant movement, the graphic approach mirrors the fluidity of music. Soundwave textures scattered throughout the exhibition space render tangible the echoes of sounds and poetry from the past. Making sounds and unheard voices visible was fundamental to providing a backdrop to the sonic experience.

In addition to these evocative soundwave textures, we populated the space with archive images celebrating the profound influence of Black British Music over the last century. Desaturated colours on the graphic banners complement the rich palette of the 3D design. Scorched wood, alongside lighter materials such as dyed textiles and transparent fabrics, accentuates the nuanced themes in the exhibition narrative.

A core ambition of the exhibition is to engage with the Black British community and to create an inclusive exhibition that invites new audiences into the Library. Community commissions displayed in interruption spaces explore pertinent themes around dance, protest, and faith. These moments of pause encourage visitors to reflect on the resilience, creativity and spirituality that often emerge in response to struggle and oppression.


3D design

Creative consultant
JA Projects

Lighting design
DHA Designs

AV design and production
Clay Interactive

Sound design
Coda to Coda

Exhibition build
Sam Forster Associates

Graphic production
OMNI Colour and Macro Art

AV installation

Jim Stephenson