A U.K. heritage charity has commissioned six portraits of Black historic figures who have ties to six of the sites it manages across the country. The exhibition, titled “Painting our Past: The African Diaspora in England,” aims to raise the profile of lesser-known histories of African people living in England, from Roman Britain to the 20th century.
“African figures from the past have played significant roles at some of the historic sites in our care but many of their stories are not very well known,” the charity’s curatorial director, Anna Eavis, said in a statement. “Placing their portraits on the walls of those sites is one way we hope to bring their stories to life and share them with a wider audience.”
The charity commissioned all of the portraits from artists who identify as Black or mixed heritage. The works are now on view at the forts, abbeys, historic houses, and barracks where their historic subjects lived, visited, or worked.
The exhibition comes shortly the Telegraph reported on leaked internal English Heritage emails showed its leaders express concern about being “held to ransom” by their members if they address the links between its properties and the history of slavery and colonialism. The emails referenced the heady backlash that the National Trust faced from its charitable donors after it published a dossier of properties with such links last year, and the chairman has since resigned after its members planned a vote of no confidence.
See the new portrait commissions below.
Emperor Septimius Severus (145-211)
by Elena Onwochei-Garcia
Who: Elena Onwochei-Garcia, an artist who has Spanish, German, and Nigerian heritage, painted Septimius Severus, a Roman emperor who fortified Hadrian’s Wall.
Where: Corbridge Roman Town on Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland
Abbot Hadrian (640-710)
by Clifton Powell
Who: Jamaican artist Clifton Powell painted Abbot Hadrian, a North African scholar in Anglo-Saxon England who was abbot at St. Augustine’s Abbey.
Where: St Augustine’s Abbey, Kent
James Chappell (c.1648-1730)
by Glory Samjolly
Who: Londoner Glory Samjolly, who has Afro-Caribbean heritage, painted James Chappell, a 17th-century servant who saved his employer’s life after an explosion in Guernsey.
Where: Kirby Hall, Northamptonshire
Dido Belle (1761-1804)
by Mikéla Henry-Lowe
Who: London-based Jamaican artist Mikéla Henry-Lowe painted Dido Belle, the daughter of an enslaved Black woman and a Royal Navy officer who was raised as part of an aristocratic family in Georgian London.
Where: Kenwood, London
Sarah Forbes Bonetta (1843-1880)
by Hannah Uzor
Who: Zambian-born artist Hannah Uzor created a portrait of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, the daughter of a West African ruler who was captured and enslaved in Dahomey before she was presented as a “diplomatic gift” to England in 1850, and was introduced to Queen Victoria who took her on as a goddaughter.
Where: Osborne, Isle of Wight
Arthur Roberts (1897-1982)
by Chloe Cox
Who: Chloe Cox, a young Birmingham artist with Caribbean roots who goes professionally by Cee or ArtCee, has painted Arthur Roberts, the son of a Trinidadian man who joined the King’s Own Scottish Borderers Regiment in 1917 and fought in World War I.
Where: Berwick-upon-Tweed Barracks, Northumberland