Picturing Diversity – The Power of Portraiture

I am seldom more satisfied with a gallery visit than on the occasions when you walk into an exhibition space intending to view one thing, and then stumble on something quite unexpected that turns out to be far more interesting than the artwork or display you originally planned to see. The 3rd August 2017 turned out to be one of those days, when my attention and intentions were solely focused on a long-awaited and much-anticipated trip to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square to see the stunning tapestry-based artwork “The Caged Bird’s Song” (2017).

Tapestry-based artwork “The Caged Bird’s Song” (2014-2017) by Chris Ofili CBE, hand-woven to the artist’s specifications by textile artists from Dovecot Tapestry Studio. The three-panelled artwork was on display at the National Gallery, London, as part of the exhibition “Chris Ofili: Weaving Magic” curated by Minna Moore Ede (displayed until 28/08/2017). Photo: Carol Dixon.

The tapestry was based on an original watercolour painted by Chris Ofili CBE, and hand-woven in partnership with a team of textile artists from Dovecot Studios. The resulting panels were then displayed as part of the celebrated exhibition, “Chris Ofili: Weaving Magic” (Sunley Room, National Gallery, London, 26 April – 28 August 2017).

Three-panelled watercolour “The Caged Bird’s Song” (2014) by Turner Prize-winning British artist Chris Ofili CBE. Photo: Carol Dixon.

The three-panelled tapestry was, of course, as awe-inspiring as the attached pictures suggest. However, the large number of visitors milling in and out of the Sunley Room precluded any opportunity to spend a long period of time quietly contemplating the  scale, splendour and intricacy of this vibrantly colourful piece at my own leisure.


Consequently, I changed tack and headed away to make an impromptu visit to the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) to spend time browsing new works in the contemporary galleries and the exhibition for the 2017 BP Portrait Award.

2017 BP Portrait Award Exhibition at the NPG, London

Among the many beautifully rendered portraits featured in this year’s selection of 53 entries displayed to represent the best of the c. 2,580 entries submitted by artists from 87 countries, the five works that (for different reasons) captured and held my attention were (in no particular order): (1) Corinne, by Anastasia Pollard; (2) Society, by Khushna Sulaman-Butt; (3) Portrait of the artist Jerome Witkin, by David Stanger; (4) Lemn Sissay, by Fiona Graham-Mackay; and (5) Another Fine Day on Elysian Fields Avenue, NOLA, by Eva Csanyi-Hurskin.

“Corinne”, by Anastasia Pollard. Oil on Board. 255 x 205mm. This painting was displayed at the National Portrait Gallery, London, as part of the 2017 BP Portrait Award. Photo: Carol Dixon.

The striking portrait of “Corinne” by Anastasia Pollard is actually quite tiny, measuring just 255 x 205mm. However, the captivating beauty of the sitter and the overall balance of the composition made it one of the most arresting images in the entire exhibition. It was also not surprising that “Corinne” was chosen by the NPG as one of the featured images used for a substantial element of the marketing and publicity for this year’s award – featuring on the cover of the catalogue, as well as on one of five large-scale promotional posters for the exhibition. Continue reading Picturing Diversity – The Power of Portraiture


Africa’s contemporary art change-makers – Who would feature at the top of your list?

A recent series of articles posted to the AADAT (African & Afro-Diasporan Art Talks) website features a selection of visual artists described as “14 Contemporary Artists Who Are Challenging the Definition of African Art.”

The listing was compiled by art historian Martina Dodd and (at the time of writing this blog) features the following 8 out of 14 leading lights  ( with the remaining 6 artists due to be published in the concluding section of the series later in the year):

Artwork from the series 'Tati. Self-Portraits' (1997) by Samuel Fosso, used as the title image for the Africa Remix (2004) exhibition catalogue (Hayward Gallery, London).
‘The Chief (the one who sold Africa to the colonists),’ from the series ‘Tati. Self-Portraits’ (1997) by Samuel Fosso. This artwork was the title image for the Africa Remix exhibition catalogue (Hayward Gallery, London, 2005).
  • Rotimi Fani-Kayode (Nigeria)
  • Samuel Fosso (Cameroon)
  • Ousmane Sow (Senegal)
  • Sokari Douglas Camp (Nigeria)
  • Yinka Shonibare MBE (RA) (Nigeria)
  • Romuald Hazoumé (Benin)
  • Hassan Musa (Sudan)
  • Ouattara Watts (Cote D’Ivoire/Ivory Coast)

Although not arranged into any particular hierarchy or rank order, the featured selection are nevertheless the product of the author’s own subjective musings about who should be considered as global change-makers and innovators within the context of contemporary African arts, and the list was deliberately not compiled according to a pre-determined set of aesthetic selection criteria against which prospective entrants might be assessed, compared and contrasted.
Continue reading Africa’s contemporary art change-makers – Who would feature at the top of your list?

Reflections on the legacies of ‘Statues Also Die’ (Présence Africaine, 1953) re. the museums sector in France today


Earlier this year an article by Tom Devriendt was posted to the online discussion forum Africa is a Country’ to commemorate the life and work of French filmmaker Alain Resnais (1922-2014), who passed away on 1st March  (Devriendt, 2014). The central focus of this piece was to celebrate the achievements of Resnais and his co-director Chris Marker (1921-2012) in creating a ground-breaking film from the early 1950s about  African art and French racism, Statues Also Die [Les statues meurent aussi] (Resnais and Marker, 1953) – commissioned and produced by the Parisian-based publishing house Présence Africaine. What is interesting about the film is the way it features a complex mixture of commentary on French museum practices from the 1950s, the history of French colonialism in Africa, and the public’s changing attitudes in the mid-20th century towards African art – referred to throughout the documentary as ‘black art’.


Continue reading Reflections on the legacies of ‘Statues Also Die’ (Présence Africaine, 1953) re. the museums sector in France today