Portraits of African Londoners in Take Another Look at the Museum of London Docklands

By Culture24 Reporter | 04 January 2013
An image of an illustration of various black Londoners on a 19th century street scene
© Leslie Braine-Ikomi

Exhibition Preview: Take Another Look, Museum of London Docklands, London, until August 4 2013

“Sometimes, as in the sympathetic portraits of men like the boxer Bill Richmond, it is deliberate and boldly stated,” says Dr Tom Wareham, the Curator of this survey of some of the people who arrived in Britain more than two centuries ago.

“Sometimes it is simply ugly and racist. Sometimes it is subtle, too.

“[George] Cruikshank's illustrations for Pierce Egan's comic novels about Life in London, for example, usually feature a London crowd and, safely embedded in that crowd, there is usually a man or woman of African or Caribbean origin. ”

A photo of a 19th century graphic illustration of an African street worker in London
© Leslie Braine-Ikomi
Showing black Britons as soldiers, musicians and sportsmen, among many other professions, the current display in the London, Sugar and Slavery gallery tells complex stories assembled by Leslie Braine-Ikomi, a private collector who has gathered a vast number of paintings, photos, illustrations and texts based around Africans in Britain during the past 300 years.

It features prints by the likes of Cruikshank and Thomas Rowlandson, plus newspaper cuttings from 1780-1833, when slavery was abolished.

"Each time I find a Georgian print with an image of a person from the African Diaspora I try to find more relevant information,” explains Braine-Ikomi.

“Their names, what they did, where they lived and how we are part of British history.”

Wareham says the collection symbolises a shift in portraiture history.

“Following the Abolition campaigns in Britain, the presence of a Black British community began to register in the depiction of many artists.

“The depictions may be crude, they may sometimes be racist, but they are there.

“They are depicted as Londoners, dressed as Londoners, doing what Londoners do - and there is never a hint of a question of their right to be there.”

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