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Artist Profile: Lubaina Himid

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

Who is Lubaina Himid and why should she be on your radar?!

In my role as an educator I was asked to plan a series of lessons to mark Black History Month. Of course I went straight to an artist but not one I was previously very familiar with.

The artist in question is Lubaina Himid. I found her story absolutely fascinating, one of Britain’s most acclaimed contemporary artists. such an important figure in British art and someone who has made an enormous impact within the field of Black art and bringing it to the mainstream.

Himid is a British artist who was born in Zanzibar in 1954. She was a pioneer of the Black Arts Movement in Britain and has been creating art for over four decades. Her work explores themes of race, identity, and history, and challenges traditional narratives. She is particularly interested in highlighting the contributions of black people to British culture and society.

Her work often features black figures and stories that have been overlooked or marginalised. For example, her painting "A Fashionable Marriage" (1984) depicts a black couple getting married in the 18th century. This was a time when interracial marriage was illegal in Britain, and Himid's painting challenges the idea that black people were not present in British history.

A Fashionable Marriage, by Lubaina Himid, 1984

Himid's work is also notable for its use of vibrant colours and patterns. She draws on African textiles and motifs in her paintings, which helps to celebrate black culture and heritage. Her own mother was a textile designer, working for British companies such as Marks and Spencer's and Himid’s early exposure to colours and patterns from her mother’s influence is ever present in her own work.

Himid is a crucially important figure in the British art world and has been influential to many generations of artists. As a pioneer of the Black British Arts movement, she built a successful career as a curator, focusing on work from black women artists in the 1980’s, a time when this section of British art was consigned to the margins by the white arts establishment. She is also a professor of contemporary art at the University of Central Lancashire and a working artist.

In 2017, Himid became the first black woman to win the Turner Prize for her installation "Naming the Money", a statement piece exploring the individual identities of enslaved people in the 1800s. Winning one of the most prestigious awards in the British art world was a major milestone for Lubaina. Not only was she the first black woman to be awarded this accolade, she was also the eldest at 63 years old. This achievement helped to raise Himid's profile and bring her work to a wider audience. A retrospective at Tate Modern followed 4 years later.

Naming the Money, by Lubaina Himid, 2017

Himid's work is significant because it helps us to see the world from a different perspective. She challenges us to think about the way that history is told and the way that black people are represented in society. Much of her work speaks of identity and and the experiences of minoritised groups within society.

Her most recent show ‘A Fine Toothed Comb’ at HOME In Manchester, which she has both curated and participated in explores the hidden layers of the City of Manchester. Her own contribution is an installation that looks at the people of Manchester who are currently sleeping rough or in temporary accommodation, a position she says she has been on the edge of herself.

The works of the other artists who feature in the show all bring very different installations examining different political, geological and political issues that the artists have individually identified with an aim to bring these issues into the public discourse.

Detail of We Will Be, by Lubaina Himid, 1983

This is typical of Lubaina as she continues to campaign for equality in the art world and champion the importance of collaboration between artists to generate real societal change.

Now I am properly aware of her work I will be following her with interest and am excited to see what she does next.

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