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Black British Art and Artists

We assume that the art shown in galleries or museums tells us a complete narrative of a specific moment in time, we know this to be a fallacy. I’m conscious of representing figures that have historically been conspicuously omitted from traditional British portraiture. Growing up I cannot recall seeing too many black or brown people within the portraits hung on gallery walls, this is something that is changing and an issue that I feel is important for future generations. I want people from similar backgrounds as myself to feel as though they have a voice and to see that their voice is equally as important as anyone else’s.

I am made all too aware on a regular basis that I am different, due to my pigmentation. I am proud of my Sierra Leonean and Lebanese heritage, as well as being aware of how fortunate I am to be born in the UK - which has allowed me the opportunities that previous generations of my family did not have. Therefore, I feel an onus to champion figures that were/are marginalised due to the colour of their skin.

Throughout the mid to late 20th century, and even into the start of the 2000s; artists from ethnically diverse backgrounds were all simply referred to as Black artists, regardless of their ethnic origins. This catch-all terminology, was an attempt to pigeonhole people of colour that were/are making important contributions towards British art.

Since reading Eddie Chambers’ Black Artists in British Art as a first year university student, I felt an immense sense of despair for the many artists that came before me, who may have been from a similar ethnic background. As I did more research, that despair turned into gratitude for the resilience and fortitude of the many great pioneering artists that paved the way to enable a course of less friction for artists like myself.

Though there are still many barriers of entry based on race and ethnicity, the work of artists such as Frank Bowling, Sonia Boyce, Keith Piper, claudette Johnson, Lumina Himid and many others was crucial as they continued to make significant works during periods where they were not given great enough recognition, which is an issue that is still recently being rectified.

I depict motifs that challenge largely accepted revisionist narratives apropos to West African Histories, with semblances of antiquated ideologies at the root of nuanced prejudices that I have experienced. Ultimately, my work looks to catalyse a discourse and embolden individuals that feel as though they have been labelled as the ‘other’ in any manifestation.


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