Press play below to take a virtual tour of the Portrait of Black Britain exhibition at Bluewater
Press play below to take a virtual tour of the Portrait of Black Britain exhibition
Portrait of Black Britain, Bluewater Launch video | # 219
Portrait of Black Britain, Bluewater Opening Day - Video Comming soon
Co-commissioned by Manchester International Festival and produced by Manchester International Festival and The Cephas Williams Company these 116 dynamic images were on display at Manchester Arndale during the Festival (1-18 July). Following MIF21, Cephas Williams is looking for more commissioners to continue the work and achieve his goal of creating 1,000 portraits.
Through Portrait of Black Britain, Cephas Williams aims to amplify the contributions made by Black people living in the UK, not only to make more Black people visible but to give the next generation and the wider society a holistic picture of Black achievements in the UK in the 21st century.
“MIF was proud to join the Black British Network in 2021 and to build on that relationship by co-commissioning the first portraits in this hugely important body of work. By placing these in Manchester Arndale and not in an art gallery we hope to capture a wide audience and make them confront their own ideas about the portrayal of Black British people in today’s society and the part we can all play in changing that.”
Artistic Director & Chief Executive of the Manchester International Festival
For The People
Image of Cephas Williams looking at the portraits at the Arndale Centre in Manchester.
Conceived and created by Cephas Williams, creator of 56 Black Men, Letter to Zion and the Black British Network, Portrait of Black Britain doesn’t focus only on high-profile people and success stories – it captures as many people from as wide a range of society as possible. These may not all faces you’ll recognise, but they are indelible images you won’t forget. The full collection of images launched at MIF featured 116 participants.
Each image profiles the participant’s name and their line of work alongside their connection to Africa/The Caribbean.
Portrait of Black Britain is a creative and impactful exhibition with people at its heart – from the individuals who are featured, to those who are inspired to call for or deliver change as a result. Cephas and the team have done a fantastic job in ensuring the installation remains impactful in such a large, busy space and it really takes visitors on a journey through the Centre, starting on the external steps facing Exchange Square. After a difficult 18 months during the pandemic, visitors to Manchester city centre are seeking meaningful experiences and Portrait of Black Britain offers that as well as encouraging discussion and action in the local community.
Director of the Arndale Centre
“Growing up in the UK, I did not see a centralised mainstream understanding of what it meant to be Black. In the US, this understanding was partly informed by the ‘One Drop Rule’ and the ‘No Colored Allowed’ era. In the UK on the other hand, many may reference the ‘No Black, No Dogs, No Irish’ signs alongside quotes such as ‘There ain’t no Black in the Union Jack’ that were prevalent at points in British history. Despite efforts to drive change, overt and systemic racism that still exists within the UK till today. But strangely enough there was a time in British history where many people were against the transatlantic slave trade and campaigned through things such as ‘The Manchester Petition against the slave trade’ which was signed by thousands of people and later led to the Abolition of Slavery in the UK (1833) freeing more than 800,000 Africans in the Caribbean and South Africa amongst other places. It’s also important to note that a vast amount of colonialism and slavery did not end at that time. It’s strange to appreciate that we are still lobbying for the right to be treated fairly in the 21st century and campaigning for change.
Although I was born here and I identify as British by birth and lived experience, my heritage is African. This has been reinforced over the years through the various racist encounters I’ve had that many other members of the Black community would identify with.
Alongside the chequered past of the UK and its involvement in the transatlantic slave trade it has sometimes been difficult to navigate my journey in the UK as someone who identifies with both being Black and being British. But what does it mean to be Black living in the UK? Growing up, my introduction to being Black would almost always be a football player or an entertainer, so this piece of work for me not only wants to re-introduce our reality and contribution to the wider society, but equally serve as a piece of work that helps Black people further connect with our identity, a piece that doesn’t only speak to a moment of time, but to legacy.”
Image of Sanchez Rhys #183 portrait displayed at Bluewater shopping mall