Lubaina Himid – African Contemporary Art

Lubaina Himid. Photo:
Lubaina Himid. Photo:

Lubaina Himid is a British artist and curator focused on the African Contemporary Art. She was one of the first artists to become involved in the UK’s Black Art movement in the 1980s. Born in Zanzibar, Tanzania in 1954, she continues to create activist art that is shown in galleries in Britain and around the world.

Himid was born in the Sultanate of Zanzibar (then a British protectorate, now part of Tanzania). Her art focuses on issues of cultural history and the recovery of identities. She is a professor of contemporary art at the University of Central Lancashire.

Life and Education

After her father died, when Himid was only four years old, she moved with her mother, who was a textile designer, to Great Britain. She studied Theatre Design at Wimbledon College of Art and a Masters in Cultural History at the Royal College of Art in 1984.

Lubaina Himid: Six Tailors, 2019. Photo:
Lubaina Himid: Six Tailors, 2019. Photo:

Himid was appointed MBE (Order of the British Empire) in June 2010 for “services to black women’s art”. Years later she won the Turner Prize in 2017 and was named CBE (Order of the British Empire) in the 2018 Queen’s Birthday Honors “for services to the arts”.

Over the last 30 years Himid has exhibited in various galleries and exhibitions both locally in Britain and internationally. She has had solo exhibitions including Transmission Glasgow, Chisenhale London, Tate St Ives, Peg Alston New York and St. Jorgens Museum in Bergen. Himid has shown her work at the Studio Museum in New York, Track 17 in Los Angeles, the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna and the Grazer Kunstverein. She also represented Great Britain at the 5th Havana Biennial.

Himid has participated internationally in exhibitions, publications and conferences. Although she is known as a painter, her work has recently been linked to museum collections. In these collections, she creatively questions the history and representation of the African Diaspora. She has studied the role of museums in the cultural history debate. Recently, she has also been co-commissioner of Thin Black Line(s) at Tate Britain.

The Work of Lubaina Himid

Her work digs into the historical representations of African people. It celebrates the creativity of black people and the recognition and importance of their cultural contribution to the contemporary landscape. Himid was one of the pioneers of the Black Art movement in the 1980s, which provided a forum for black artists. Those who explored the political, social, and historical issues surrounding black identity.

Lubaina Himid, Naming the Money (2004). Photo: Stuart Whipps
Lubaina Himid, Naming the Money (2004). Photo: Stuart Whipps

Himid produces paintings, prints, drawings and installations that praise African creativity. She refers to the slave industry and its legacies, addresses the hidden cultural contribution of real but forgotten people. Himid describes from the painting the material of everyday life to explore black identity. This can be by working on the Guardian newspaper or directly on the porcelain dinnerware.

“Himid’s work has long been concerned with black creativity, history and identity and this animated throng represents the Africans who were brought to Europe as slave servants. There are drummers, dog trainers, dancers, potters, cobblers, gardeners and players of the Viola Da Gamba, all decked out in vivid versions of 17th century costume. Labels on their backs identify each individual, giving both their original African names and occupations as well as those imposed by their new European owners, and these poignant texts also form part of an evocative soundtrack, interspersed with snatches of Cuban, Irish, Jewish and African music,” said Louisa Buck for The Daily Telegraph in February 2017 about “Naming the Money”, Lubaina Himid’s 2004 work.

Principal Works

“Naming the Money” (2004)

Lubaina Himid, Naming the Money (2004). Photo: Stuart Whipps_b
Lubaina Himid, Naming the Money (2004). Photo: Stuart Whipps

In “Naming the Money” from 2004, 100 life-size cut-out figures depict black servants and workers. Himid individualizes them by giving each one a name and a story. She often removes her paintings from the gallery wall so that her images become objects that surround the viewer.

“Naming the Money” extends the experience of slavery to all migrants. It is a key work in Lubaina Himid’s career. The nearly one hundred life-size painted plywood cut-outs bring to life the African servants depicted in 17th and 18th century European court paintings.

A Fashionable Marriage (1987)

Lubaina Himid - Fashionable Marriage installation, Tate Liverpool
Lubaina Himid – Fashionable Marriage installation, Tate Liverpool

Himid questions the historical role of the portrait, as in works such as “A Fashionable Marriage” (1987), recently exhibited in The Place is Here at Nottingham Contemporary (2017). Inspired by William Hogarth’s 1743 Marriage à la mode 4, this installation features a colorful set with a cast of characters taken from Hogarth’s morality tale.

Incorporating painting, drawing, and collage on cut-outs, the installation relates its historical inspiration to our current climate by including contemporary newspaper headlines and images of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

Himid’s satirical approach points to the politics of the time as well as her legacy today. In works such as these, the artist appropriates and interrogates European painters and combines aspects of their African heritage to question the role of visual power.

Awards, Honors, Individual and Collective Exhibitions

Along with her artistic practice, Himid has curated exhibitions to showcase under-represented black artists. As an artist, advocate and curator she has facilitated and celebrated the role of black artists and their contributions to contemporary society.

Himid is a member of the board of directors of the Lowry Arts Centre Manchester. She is a board member of the Arts Council of England’s Visual Arts, Creative Associations of East Lancs. Himid is also a member of the Arts Council of North West England. From 1985 to 1987 Himid served on the visual arts panel of the Greater London Arts Association.

Recent solo exhibitions include Navigation Charts, Spike Island, Bristol, UK and Invisible Strategies, Modern Art Oxford, Oxford, UK (both 2017). Recent group exhibitions include The Place is Here, Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham, UK (2017); The 1980s Today’s Beginnings?, Van Abbe Museum, Eindhoven, Netherlands (2016); Keywords, Tate Liverpool, UK (2014); and Burning Down the House, Gwangju Biennial, South Korea (2014).

From 1986 to 1990 Himid was director of the Elbow Room and has curated exhibitions such as Carte de Visite, Hollybush Gardens, London, UK (2015); The Thin Black Line, ICA, London, UK (1986); and Critical, Donald Rodney, Rochdale Art Gallery, Rochdale, UK (1989). Lubaina Himid is 62 years old and lives and works in Preston, England.

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