About Lubaina Himid and her artwork

Update - May 2017: Lubaina Himid is now in the running for the Turner Prize 2017!


Lubaina Himid, or The Colours of Our Past

Melissa Chemam 

Her art pieces seem to have come alive. Painted on panels installed standing in the Spike Island Gallery’s main room, accompanied with a sound system broadcasting these characters’ voices and with names written on their back side, these portraits of African slaves leave you with a powerful sense of both familiarity and estrangement.

A hundred cut-out figures thus representing slaves in eighteenth-century European Royal courts are on display in her Bristol exhibition, along with some of her large and smaller canvas. The soundtrack and the names of the characters – mentioning both an original African name and a newly given English name – create a whole conversation and bring about the idea of fluid identities.

Born in Zanzibar in 1954, Lubaina Himid moved to Britain as a child with her parents in the 1960s and grew up in London. She started her pathway through the art world by studying theatre design, before entering the Royal Art College and writing a thesis in cultural history on young Black artists in Britain, released in 1984. A smashing accomplishment that quickly took her to also support other artists’ debuts, including Sutapa Biswas, Sonia Boyce, Claudette Johnson, Veronica Ryan, Indrid Pollard.

A Major Voice for The Black British Culture

Lubaina became a curator in London in the mid-80s and organised the Thin Black Line exhibition at the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts) in 1985 for instance. Meanwhile, she was producing her own art, influenced by her passion for “distanciation” in theatre and Berthold Brecht. She works on both art installations and figurative painting, using strong patterns, colours and themes. With references to slavery, forced labour, colonial history, migration and the role of the “Black” diaspora in Europe, her art obviously stands out in the British 1990s art scene. She later started teaching history of contemporary arts at the University of Central Lancaster, in Preston.

The three exhibitions running this month of March are a step forward in Lubaina’s carrier, and a chance to get her work displayed nationwide, underlining her pioneering role and her forefront talent.

Art, according to her, has the power to open a dialogue about such issues, to initiate conversations, and it is important. And if they can go further, it can become a source of richness, bonding and creativity for the entire society. 


Exhibitions details:

Navigation Charts was at Spike Island, Bristol, from 20 January to 26 March; Invisible Strategies is at Modern Art Oxford from 21 January to 30 April; The Place is Here is at Nottingham Contemporary from 4 February at 30 April.

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