Portrayals Of Blackness: Our Black History Month Competition Winners

HuffPost UK brings you the top ten pieces of art and photography on the theme of black culture in the UK

Last month, HuffPost UK announced that we were running an arts and photography competition for Black History Month in collaboration with IPG Mediabrands, looking at what black culture means to artists across the UK.

Our top ten submissions touched on so many elements that come together to make up what we see blackness as being; including hair, food and the social rituals that surround it, family history, intersectionality, celebration, the way we take up space, and family.

We were blown away by the quality of submissions. See below for our competition winners, whose work you can see featured in an exhibition that will run throughout October at the IPG offices in Clerkenwell, London.

‘The Contemporary Woman Of Colour’ – Nadia Akingbule

Nadia Akingbule

“I’m a 21-year-old illustrator and painter from London, currently studying in Manchester. Most of my work is a reflection of my dual heritage (I come from a Russian and Nigerian background), and identity greatly informs my work. I freelance with various clients, and have been illustrating with gal-dem for the last two years. This has been the most liberating step for my creative practice; surrounding myself with like-minded women and non-binary people of colour, made me realise that my driving force to make work is documenting the experiences of BME people.

This painting, called The Contemporary Woman Of Colour, is the last of four from a series I did called Hair. The piece is a play on traditional portraiture, and is set in an Afro-Caribbean hair shop. I wanted to create a sense of familiarity in this piece, so lined the shelves with popular afro hair products from the last decade. This piece is a celebration of an element of black identity, that for a long time was considered ‘unprofessional’, ‘unacceptable’ and ‘unattractive’ in mainstream media and society.”

‘Chicken Shop’ – Serena Brown

Serena Brown

“I am a recent photography graduate and for my final major project I explored black cultures influence on high fashion and aimed to celebrate the trends and aesthetics created by them, which are often appropriated. I chose to submit this image because it holds a lot of nostalgia as a location that is a hub for laughs and link ups… even in your best creps. Fashion and style is such a big part of black British culture and we constantly create our own looks and trends which are often passed off as somebody else’s idea. I believe it’s important to celebrate the uniqueness of our ordinary even if it is just wearing your best tracksuit to the chicken shop.”

‘Abby’ – Naomi Maxwell

Naomi Maxwell

“I’m a Black British photographer, whose family descend from Jamaica. The sitter in this photo is a close friend of mine and is also of West Indian descent. I took this portrait of her after swapping stories of our grandparents and coping with the loss of these integral characters. Somehow even with that being the topic of conversation, it was full of laughter and joy which really sums up my lived experience of Black Britishness.

I’ve always seen being Black and British through the eyes of my elders, whether that’s cooking and sharing food, or the music that they play or the late nights sharing many an anecdote, often in the face of hostility. To me to be an immigrant, and particularly a person of West Indian descent, is to be innovative, it is to make space for yourself and to be intentional about maintaining important parts of your culture and identity, rather than waiting for permission to just be yourself. My grandparents, my aunts and uncles, they all chose to be joyful and to keep on telling stories, and in their laughter and cackling is a beautiful form of resilience.

As a person who’s both Jamaican and British, I’m proud to belong to a people of storytellers, mischief-makers and sometimes just a full on boisterous bunch. I know, consciously or otherwise, that me and my friends who are now third-generation West Indians have learnt those same values and gifts which continue to shape everyday British culture.”

‘Black Pride’ – Denisha Anderson

Denisha Anderson

“I am a photographer and filmmaker who centres my work around my fascination with humanity. Exploring all realms within photography; documentary, fashion and portraiture with key themes of identity, race and gender remaining.

I choose to speak cultural truths and reveal injustice which has lead to travel being a key part of my practice thus creating images of beauty in our shared human experience.The picture I have submitted below sums up energy, freedom, sexuality and culture. Being black and queer is still a tough nugget to swallow for many across generations in the black community for men and women. However UK Black Pride stands as Europe’s largest celebration for African, Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin American and Caribbean-heritage LGBTQ people. In its 14th year I wanted to join in on the celebration and capture the true definition of diversity and more importantly acceptance. The series conveys the safety and inclusion felt by all those who attend, the joy felt when self-expression can take place without fear or judgement.”

Parys Gardener:

“I am a Bristol-born and raised digital illustrator who specialises in editorial illustration but also enjoys designing for album covers and portraiture. With a BA in Illustration and Visual Communications from the University of Westminster, my work is mainly known for exploring the portrayal of women of colour as main, active characters in a range of narratives. I aim to reclaim the voices and visual representation of marginalised communities through popular culture. I have been commissioned by the likes of gal-dem, Noa Vee and Bristol24/7 and most recently, Kayleighdanielsdated.com.”

‘Gyaldem Sugar’

Parys Gardener

“Four friends who are the embodiments of iconic Caribbean islands, Barbados, Jamaica, Bahamas and St Lucia pose for an Instagram picture at Notting Hill Carnival.”

‘Summer 2018 on the 48’

Parys Gardener

“Gives insight into my current story. It shows me in a state of extremely sweaty
distress while sat in a very ‘unladylike’ fashion, which is a theme I’m currently developing. It’s also about how I feel towards the occupation of public spaces as a woman of colour, unapologetically.”

‘Lady Like’

Parys Gardener

“In response to being told to sit like a lady, inspired by model Slick Woods as featured in Noa Vee magazine.”

‘Caribbean Mother And Child’ – Helen France MBE

Helen France MBE

“As a woman from a Caribbean background, I always had a love of art. While in the Caribbean, the place of my birth, I painted using plants such as the ‘jump-up-and-kiss-me’, the morning glory flower, the prickly pear juice, and ginger dye. I painted scenery and village life and drew images from my Caribbean culture, experiences as a woman of colour and Caribbean folklore told to me by my grandparents and the elders in the village.

I came to England in the ’60s with the hopes of continuing my work as an artist. I attended Art College where I learnt drawing and painting techniques and met other artists who encouraged and inspired me. I attended life drawing courses to master my technique as an artist. I love working with different mediums and colour palettes – exploring my Yorkshire home through the eyes of a Caribbean artist and addressing issues of culture, folklore and my experience as a woman of colour, within my art work.”

‘Afro-Noon Tea’ – Nicola Lespeare

Nicola Lespeare

I’m the founder of my eponymous brand. I specialise in illustrating stylish celebration cards and lifestyle products inspired by black women and our fabulous hair.

My artwork is titled Afro-Noon Tea and portrays a Black British woman rocking her beautiful natural hair as she enjoys a very British tradition - Afternoon Tea.

She’s embracing British culture with her Union Jack head wrap, whilst her bangles represent her ancestral roots. She’s loving her Afro-noon Tea and the look in her eyes says she’s living her best life!

‘Mellisah’ – Amelia Bartlett

Amelia Bartlett

“I’m interested in exploring the past and present histories of culture, identity, ethnicity and place. I often draw on my own personal experiences or those within my generation as a source of inspiration and I use the photographic practice to conceptually represent such interactions.

I’ve chosen submit a portrait from my university project ‘No, You May Not’, as it is an example of how denying the conventional ideas of beauty in favor of showcasing individuality within your culture can be its own type of beautiful.

The portraiture/still life combination pays tribute to the beauty and diversity of hairstyles within Afro-Caribbean heritages, whilst accounting several personal testimonials. It furthermore offers an opportunity to examine the ways in which women use hair as an apparatus to identify facets of a contemporary womanhood in black culture and confirm an identity in today’s society.

If you would like to check out any of my other works please visit ameliarbartlett.co.uk.”

The exhibition, titled ‘Living Colour’ will be featured in the IPG Offices, 42 St John’s Square, Clerkenwell, London, and is free to see. It will run for the entirety of October.

Michael Brown

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