Newly Commissioned Portraits of Black Historical Figures Now Hang in the U.K. Properties Where They Lived and Worked—See Images Here

The charity English Heritage aims to bring life to lesser known histories of African people living in Britain.

English Heritage has today unveiled six new portraits depicting six historic figures from the African diaspora at six of the charity’s sites. Artists (lleft to right): Chloe Cox, Clifton Powell, Hannah Uzor, Elena Onwochei-Garcia, Glory Samjolly, Mikéla Henry-Lowe.
English Heritage has today unveiled six new portraits depicting six historic figures from the African diaspora at six of the charity’s sites. Artists (lleft to right): Chloe Cox, Clifton Powell, Hannah Uzor, Elena Onwochei-Garcia, Glory Samjolly, Mikéla Henry-Lowe.

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. 

Glory Samjolly with her portrait of James Chappell. Photo by Christopher Ison for English Heritage ©.

Glory Samjolly with her portrait of James Chappell. Photo by Christopher Ison for English Heritage ©.

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

Elena Onwochei-Garcia's portrait of Septimius. Photo by Christopher Ison for English Heritage ©.

Elena Onwochei-Garcia’s portrait of Septimius Severus. Photo by Christopher Ison for English Heritage ©.

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

Clifton Powell's portrait of Abbot Hadrian. Photo by Christopher Ison for English Heritage ©.

Clifton Powell’s portrait of Abbot Hadrian. Photo by Christopher Ison for English Heritage ©.

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

Glory Samjolly's portrait of James Chappell. Photo by Christopher Ison for English Heritage ©.

Glory Samjolly’s portrait of James Chappell. Photo by Christopher Ison for English Heritage ©.

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

Mikéla Henry-Lowe's portrait of Dido Belle. Photo by Christopher Ison for English Heritage ©.

Mikéla Henry-Lowe’s portrait of Dido Belle. Photo by Christopher Ison for English Heritage ©.

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

Hannah Uzor's portrait of Sarah Forbes Bonetta. Photo by Christopher Ison for English Heritage ©.

Hannah Uzor’s portrait of Sarah Forbes Bonetta. Photo by Christopher Ison for English Heritage ©.

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

Chloe Cox's portrait of Arthur Roberts. Photo by Christopher Ison for English Heritage ©.

Chloe Cox’s portrait of Arthur Roberts. Photo by Christopher Ison for English Heritage ©.

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


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