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Pioneering Black British Artists

The UK is a melting pot of different cultures, and yet many people do not know much about prominent black British artists. Read on to learn about three black British artists.

Lubaina Himid was born in Zanzibar, an archipelago off the of East Africa, which was a Portuguese colony and British protectorate before becoming a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania. She moved to England as a baby with her mother who was a textile designer and studied theatre design at Wimbledon College of Art. Himid’s work is concerned with black creativity, history and identity, and seeks to challenge the institutional invisibility experienced by Black people. She made history in 2017 when she became the first Black woman to win the Turner Prize. One of Himid’s best known works is Naming the Money, 2014 in which 100 cut-out life size figures depicts black servants and labourers. Despite their flat, two-dimensional representation, Himid humanises and individualises these figures by giving them names and back stories. By creating this work as cut-out figures rather than a painting she makes her artwork surround the viewer, so that the viewer becomes truly immersed in the artwork. Himid has been a trailblazer throughout her career; she was the first Black artist to have her work shown in Whitechapel gallery in 1988 and alongside her own practice she has curated exhibitions which showcase the work of Black artists who have been underrepresented or excluded from the cultural mainstream.

Sonia Boyce is a British Afro-Caribbean artist who incorporates African and Caribbean culture into her work. In 1983 she participated in the exhibition at the African centre in London entitled Five Black Women which was organised by Lubaina Himid and in 1989 she was part of a group of four female artists who created an exhibition called The Other Story which was the first display of British African, Caribbean and Asian Modernism. This was a victory for less well-known ethnic minority women artists who were excluded from mainstream artistic circles on account of their ethnicity and gender. More recently Boyce has gained widespread recognition and has been awarded an MBE and appointed as a Royal Academician. Boyce works in a range of media including photography, installation and text, and, drawing on her background, she often includes depictions of wallpaper patterns and the bright colours associated with the Caribbean.

Chris Ofili is a British artist of Nigerian descent. Between 1995 and 2005 Ofili’s work drew inspiration from “blaxploitation” films and gansta rap, and seeks to question racial and sexual stereotypes. He is perhaps best known for incorporating elephant dung into his paintings but he has also used resin, beads, oil paint, glitter and magazine cut-outs, leading his work to be described as “punk art”. In 1998 Ofili won the Turner Prize and in 2005 he relocated to Trinidad where he began a series of blue paintings inspired by the Jab Jab or "blue devils" who participate in the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, also drawing inspiration from Expressionist groups of German and Russian artists such as Der Blaue Reiter. In 2014, art critic Roberta Smith held that Ofili has much in common with painters like Mickalene Thomas, Kerry James Marshall, Robert Colescott and Ellen Gallagher, and with more distant precedents such as Bob Thompson, Beauford Delaney and William H. Johnson. Why not do some research into these artists to explore the similarities and differences between their work and the work of Chris Ofili?

Rebecca Bakare, Year 12

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