Black Power: Photographs by Donald MacLellan
13 February – 14 June, 1998
This fascinating new exhibition of a series of twenty-four powerful portraits of leading black achievers in British society, is the culmination of a project undertaken by the Scottish-born photographer Donald MacLellan between April 1996 and November 1997. The project profiles the achievements and contributions of professional British black people who have attained positions of power and influence within their own professions and in British society. A set of prints have recently been acquired for the NPG’s permanent collection.
Avoiding the already well-documented areas of sport and popular music, the subjects photographed come from many different professions including politics, science, law, media, business, medicine and the church. They include Paul Boateng MP, Professor Stuart Hall, comedian Lenny Henry, T&G Union general Secretary Bill Morris, Lord Taylor of Warwick, broadcaster and journalist Trevor Phillips, senior civil servant Heather Rabbatts and poet Benjamin Zephaniah. Each portrait is accompanied by a comment from the subject outlining their feelings on their achievements, contributions, thoughts on being black and British or a short story that illustrates a particular period of their life.
Adopting full-face close-up format and printed slightly larger than life-size the portraits are beautifully sculpted, uniquely toned images emerging out of a darkened background creating a strong and lasting impression that remains with the viewer long after they have been seen.
Born and raised in the West Highlands of Scotland, Donald MacLellan studied photography at Salisbury College of Art and subsequently spent several years assisting established photographers before setting up on his own as a freelance photographer for national newspapers and magazines.
Preface to Black Power (National Portrait Gallery, 1998)
During the past two years, while carrying out this project, I was continually asked why I was doing this. There are various reasons, such as our perception of the black achiever in Britain as a sports personality or a pop musician, My wish was to redress the balance by showing the wide range of other areas and professions, including politics, the Church, medicine, the sciences and the arts, in which black people have made such an important contribution to UK society. My choice of subjects includes not only well-known names, but also some less well-known and some who have achieved success more recently.
Along with each portrait, I invited each subject to supply a comment on how they assessed their own achievements and their thoughts on being black and British, or something that illustrated a particular time in their life. I found these comments enormously interesting and thought-provoking.
It is very difficult to spend two years of one’s life on such a project without feeling close to the subject. I will, of course, never know what it feels like to be Black in Britain but I hope, by being invited to show this project in such a prestigious location, that I will have made some small contribution towards a better mutual appreciation and understanding.
‘The average IQ level of the prominent men and women hanging side by side would be sure to impress Mensa’s boffins...Called ‘Black Power’, the shots taken by up-and-coming Scottish photographer Donald MacLellan aim to highlight success stories and contribute towards a better mutual appreciation among cultures’.
‘Enter the hall of frame’, by Georgia Williams, South London Press, 24 February 1998
‘Pop music, business and food have been transformed by immigrants and ethnic minority Britons. In fact it is a sign of the (relatively) good times that a photographic exhibition of famous blacks at the National Portrait Gallery left out Trevor Macdonald because planners were spoiled by choice.’
‘Let us now praise the surprising success of multicultural Britain’, by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, The Independent, 2 June 1998
1. Professor Ian Hall
‘On one occasion while I was a freshman at Oxford, another student asked me what I was reading. When I told him ‘music’, I recall, he looked a little startled. ‘Oh, really!’, he said, ‘did you bring your drums with you?’ There was no malice in the question, only astonishment’.
Born in Guyana, educated at Archbishop Tenison’s School in London. First black music graduate from Oxford University in the early 1960s. He has taught in eleven schools, both in the UK and in Ghana. His Bloomsbury Mass has been televised live, and as an organist, he has served in four London churches, including St Martin-in-the-Fields. Founder and President of the Bloomsbury International Society to advance international, inter-ethic understanding.
2. Baron Taylor of Warwick (b. 1952)
Solicitor and politician
‘My father was born in poverty in Kingston, Jamaica. He played county cricket for Warwickshire and, when I was a boy, he hoped to make it to Lords one day. Although he meant Lords cricket ground, I know he would have settled for other Lords! I am proud to be Afro-Caribbean and British. Black Britons will continue to play a positive part in all aspects of British life. I hope my thoughts and actions will be helpful in this process.’
Born in the West Midlands in 1952. Educated at University of Keele. Called to the Bar in 1978. Began political career as a borough councillor for Solihull (1986-90). Subsequent appointments include Special Advisor to the Home Secretary on Inner City Business, Charities Legal Services and Crime Prevention (1990-1). Stood as a Conservative Parliamentary candidate for Cheltenham in 1992. Created a Life Peer in 1996.
3. Professor Stuart Hall (b. 1932)
Photographs are as much a ‘taking up of position’ as a revelation. They occur at the unstable point where the ‘unspeakable stories of the subjectivity meet the narratives of a history, of a culture. And since he/she is positioned in relation to cultured narratives which have been profoundly expropriated, the colonized subject is always ‘somewhere else’: doubly marginalized. Displaced, always other than where he or she is, or is able to speak from.
Born in Jamaica in 1932. Won a Rhodes Scholarship to Merton College, Oxford, where he obtained his MA in 1951. Editor of the New Left Review (1957-1961), then Lecturer in Film and Mass Media Studies at Chelsea College, London University, until 1964. Appointed as Resident Fellow at the Centre for Cultural Studies at Birmingham University (1964), Acting Director (1972) and Director (1972-1979). Has published numerous key works on culture and politics during the past thirty years. Professor of Sociology at Open University since 1979.
4. Ozwald Boateng (b. 1967)
Tailor and fashion designer
‘Dad was always driven by politics in Ghana and taught me to believe everything is possible so I’m not afraid to try new things. My mother was more business-oriented so I got my acumen from her. I was 17 when I sold my first suit with my name on it to a shop in Covent Garden and I was so proud. In Savile Row I deliberately set out to attract very different clientele. I suppose the other tailors thought I was too eccentric, but we have mutual respect for each other now and I have proved useful to them’.
Born in 1967. Trained at Hepworth’s, Milford Haven. Known for his radical approach to style, cut and adornment of suits which reflect his Anglo-Ghanian heritage. Winner of the prestigious Best Male Designer Award at Trophées de la Mode in Paris in 1996. Featured in The Cutting Edge exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum and has a shop in Savile Row.
5. Christopher B-Lynch (b. 1947)
Physician and Surgeon
‘I applied for a very senior post in my post-graduate training. I was encouraged to apply by my peers. The interview went well and I was appointed by a majority verdict, only to be told the following day by a senior consultant that it had been changed. Little did he know that I had secured a written accreditation of the post from the Royal College before submitting my application. Without this document, the consequence would have been a translation of my rightful post to one occupied by a failed white contestant. I remain eternally grateful to my wife Julia. Without her love and support I could not have coped with the various vicissitudes of life. She is white British.’
Born in 1947 in Sierra Leone. Chief Assistant to the Queen’s Gynaecologists from 1991 to 1993 and a Member of Council for the Roay Society of Medicine. Currently a consultant to the NHS, Oxford Region and has a private practice in Harley Street.
6. Trevor Phillips (b. 1953)
Journalist and TV presenter
‘The day my dad took me to show me his work, I was awed by the respect and admiration of his workmates. But as we stood on the edge of the sorting office floor, I realised he would never be one of the ‘guv’nors’ because I could see they were all white. Today, we have come a long way because of the struggles of our fathers and mothers. My daughters need have no fear that their abundant talents and ambitions will be thwarted by their colour – rather, it is a badge of their pride in a rich heritage’.
Born in London in 1953. Attended Queen’s College, in Georgetown, before completing his education at Imperial College, London, obtaining a BSc in Chemistry. Well known media presenter for such programmes as The London Programme (LWT), Crosstalk (LNN) and In Living Colour (BBC). A distinguished journalist, he contributes a weekly column for The Independent and writes regularly for The Guardian and Prospect.
7. Baroness Scotland of Asthall
‘I have been particularly blessed. I was fortunate to have the encouragement of my parents and, later on, my bellow lawyers in my career at the Bar...My father used to say that every man or woman is the arbiter of his or her own good fortune, every single one of us is given a talent and the challenge is to find and hone that talent and to use it for the benefits of others. I believe him to be right’.
Studied for a law degree at London University and was called to the Bar, Middle Temple in 1977. Now a partner in a Gray’s Inn practice, also a member of the Antigua Bar, and a former member of the Commission for Racial Equality. Appointed member of the Millennium Committee (1994) and made a Life Peer in 1997.
8. Bill Morris (b. 1938)
‘By the efforts of others, I have been afforded privileges well beyond what I expected or deserved, the greatest of which is to lead my Union. Like the late John Smith, all I ask is the chance to serve and provide a choice for those who are without one’.
Born in Jamaica in 1938, Bill Morris came to live in Handsworth, Birmingham in 1954 working for several years in the engineering industry. General Secretary of Transport and General Workers Union, the UK’s largest trade union since 1992. Also serves on the General Council of TUC and many other public bodies including the Commission for Racial Equality, the General Advisory Board of the BBC, the Independent Broadcasting Authority and the Prince of Wales’ Business trust. Professor of Sociology at the Open University since 1979.
9. George Kelly (Fowokan) (b. 1943)
‘While others search for the key that will reveal the answers to all our ills, we salute and pay homage to the lives of those ancestors who left the warmth of their island homes to become pioneers and settlers in this strange and hostile land. We must remember that in their death lies our purification and renewal, for death is the sacred food of rebirth. We must not forget that their deeds and bones nourish the soil of the land that make it our own’.
Born in Jamaica in 1943. Mainly self-taught, he has been a sculptor since the early 1980s and involved with projects to take African art into schools around the UK. His many commissions include works for the Greater London Council and the African people’s Historical Monument Foundation. He has exhibited regularly since 1893 in London, New York and Havana.
10. Sonia Boyce (b. 1962)
‘I have become accustomed to the wider British society seeing every black person who steps outside the ‘normal space’ and occupation ascribed to them as seemingly peculiar and, therefore, a social phenomenon. I, myself, just feel that I am doing a job that I have some skill for and am part of a culture I have contributed to’.
Born in London in 1962 to West Indian parents. Obtained her BA in Fine Art (1983). Came to prominence as one of the leading visual artists of the Black Art movement that emerged in the 1980s. Included in over 50 exhibitions throughout the UK and overseas, with examples of her work in public collections at the Arts Council, the British Council, the Cleveland Museum, the Tate Gallery and the Victoria & Albert Museum. Currently Co-director of the African and Asian Visual Artists Archive at the University of East London and Artist-in-Residence at the University of Manchester.
11. Chief Inspector Dalton McConney (b. 1940)
‘I have enjoyed some of the good and positive things about the service. I have endured some of the frustrating and disappointing aspects of it. I, however, benefited tremendously from the experience. Despite the contributions and achievements black officers have made, only a few have managed to crack the ‘glass ceiling’ in promotion. Having cracked it, however, there was no surprise that the ‘ceiling’ was reinforced with concrete. With steely determination, we must continue to chip away’.
Born in Barbados in 1940, and moved to England in 1960. Working in industry before joining the Metropolitan Police Force in the 1970s. As Metropolitan Police Borough Liaison Officer to Lambeth Council, McConney is one of the UK’s most senior black police officers. Promoted to Chief Inspector (1992) and awarded an MBE (1994) for his services to the Brixton community.
12. Heather Rabbatts (b. 1959)
Local government executive
‘If you aim for the stars, you might get the moon’ so my mum told me when I was a little girl. Those words have been a constant inspiration even when school went badly or when I felt alone in an alien world. I never lost a sense of hope that life could be different. Now, when I present projects at local schools, I tell this story. Why? Because belief in who you are, daring to dream what, at times, feels impossible, breaking out of the shackles of the stereotypes of others, is what set us all free’.
Born in Jamaica in 1959 and educated in England. Called to the bar in 1981. Began local government career as a policy officer in 1893, moving to Hammersmith and Fulham Borough Council in 1987 as Head of Women’s Department, and subsequently Director of Personel and Deputy Chief Executive. Governor of the London School of Economics and Director of the Public Management Foundation. Appointed Chief Executive of the London Borough of Lambeth in 1995.
13. Margaret Busby
‘I remember turning up for an interview and being asked to wait while the receptionist rang upstairs to say ‘Mr--, there’s a black girl who says she’s got an appointment’. We have always been here and this is what we are living through and what we have lived through. I do not get up in the morning, look in the mirror and think ‘Oh no, black again!’
Born in Ghana, graduated in English at Bedford College, University of London (1987). Co-founder and editorial director of Allison and Busby, publishers of leading black writers. Journalist, editor, reviewer and broadcaster since 1990. Won the Pandora Prize (1993) for the most positive contribution to the status of women in publishing.’
14. Trevor Robinson (b. 1964)
‘I love being black. I know it sounds a strange thing to say but I do think I was born lucky. It’s always been easier to have a life which is extraordinary when you’re born contrary to the norm. My blackness is what defines me. Also, it’s easier dealing with people treating you like a freak when there’s around three million other ‘freaks’ in this country just like me’.
Born in London in 1964, Trevor Robinson is probably best known in the advertising world as the pioneer, along with his one-time creative partner Alan Young, of ‘guerilla advertising’. With Young, he set up Quiet Storm, an independent creative agency, which produced the Operation Black Vote adverts for the 1997 General Election as well as campaigns for fashion designer Ozwald Boateng and Virgin Vie. Robinson has also recently directed a series for Paramount Comedy Channel and is working on his first feature film.
15. Denise Everett (b. 1965)
‘To me, racists are people that are ignorant, misinformed or want to blame someone ‘different’. Recently, I got out of my car and one of a group of white teenagers shouted ‘Why don’t you go back to where you came from?’ Maybe I should get a tattoo that says ‘Made in England’.
I am from a one-parent family and I lived on a council estate for a while. Yet I have never been mugged or arrested, done drugs, nor been a prostitute. Today, I work in one of the most successful IV units in the UK. There is no secret to achievement – everyone can do it so long as they really want to.’
Born in 1965 in Finchley to Jamaican parents. Started her career at London Chest Hospital as a Junior MLSO in Chemical pathology. Appointed to her present position as Senior Embryologist at the Lister Hospital (1992), she has travelled extensively in Jeddah, Atlanta, Hamburg, Ohio, Cairo and elsewhere.
16. J. Kofi Bucknor (b. 1955)
‘Being a Black in Britain, I see each day the sense of under-achievement and desperation that many gifted young people feel. Many of them are bright, well educated and ambitious but usually have nowhere to turn for advice, guidance or professional opportunity. I see doors, especially in my profession, closed to them even before they have had a chance to knock. Much talent is wasted in this process and I have tried to spend as much time as I can to address this issue’.
Born in 1955 in Ghana where he graduated at the University of Ghana (1976). Studied at Columbia University (1977) and then appointed as a Vice President of Chemical Bank, New York. Executive Director of Corporate Finance at the merchant bank Lehman Brothers (1994-6) before taking his present position as Managing Director of CAL Merchant Bank in Accra, Ghana. Member of the Policy Committee of the Centre for the Study of African Economies at Oxford University.
17. Professor Lola Young (b. 1951)
‘My motivation for participating in this kind of work is that we are not simply discussing a series of comforting or disturbing images but attempting to discover what might be read off about a particular moment in a culture of society from the way in which these (meta-) narratives are constructed and disseminated, and the impact on social relations of these representations and the cultural forms in which they appear’.
Born to Nigerian parents in the UK in 1951. Studied drama at New College of Speech and Drama in London and after acting experience in the theatre and television, attended Middlesex University. Continuing with post-graduate courses, she began teaching and cites her greatest achievement as being one of the very few black women appointed as a university professor in the UK. Lola Young is Professor of Cultural Studies at Middlesex University.
18. Joan Riley (b. 1958)
‘Not so many years ago, I worked under an anti-Black manager in a Tory flagship borough. He insisted on correcting any document drafted by the black staff, in red ink, even though his spelling was atrocious and he had no grasp of basic English grammar. As a writer, I could see the comic absurdity of it all, but I also saw how much damage the work environment did to many people’.
Born in St Mary, Jamaica and came to the UK after completing her secondary education to study at Sussex University and obtain her BL and MA in sociology. First novel, The Unbelonging, published in 1985, followed by Waiting in the Twilight (1987) and Romance (1988). Literary awards include the Voice Award for Literary Excellence (1992), the MIND Book of the Year Prize (1993) and, recently, the prestigious Voice Literary Figure of the Decade Award.
19. Barbara Tomlin-Lindsay
‘I would like to see a world without distorted images of black people. We have made enormous contributions – too often these have not been recognised. I am black and I am proud of my heritage’.
Born in the Caribbean, and had worked for twenty years in public service, at the Cabinet Office and the Treasury. Now a Middle Manager at the Board of Trade, she provides briefings for ministers and senior officials on environmental issues. A qualified member of the Institute of Personnel and Development. Has three sons and fosters a five-year-old child.
20. Paul Boateng MP (b. 1951)
‘I am black. I am British. I can, and do, draw on a rich and diverse variety of cultural, social and political influences that span the continents. I decline to be stereotyped ‘Black Politician’. I am a politician. I am what I am. I want a world where my children will be free to be judged, not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character’.
Born in Hackney, east London but brought up in Ghana before returning to England to study law at Bristol University and the College of Law. Called to the Bar (1979). Labour member of GLC for Walthamstow (1981-6). Member of Parliament for Brent South since 1987, and Junior Minister after 1997 election. A Methodist Lay preacher and a member of the World Development Movement. In 1988 won the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize for his contributions to social, economic and racial justice.
21. Dr John Anthony Roberts (b. 1928)
‘My wish is to help others not to experience the social imbalances which have confronted me over the years and which I continue to see out with determination, and to educate those who blatantly refuse to recognise the rights and aspirations of black people. I believe the world will be a better place with black and white people working together to achieve peace, love and respect for each other’.
Born in Sierra Leone in 1928 and educated there at St Edward’s RC Secondary School and the Inns of Court Law School. Joined the RAF in 1952 and qualified as an Air Traffic Control Officer (1962). Called to the Bar at Gray’s Inn, London (1969). Head of Chambers at Lincoln’s Inn (1975-92). Appointed a Judge at the Supreme Court of the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla (1992). Recorder of the Crown Court since 1987 and QC (1988).
22. The Rt Rev Dr John Mugabi Setamu (b. 1949)
Bishop of Stepney
‘It seems surprising to me, looking back, that in fact, I never actively sought any office. It may be that being black helped but it’s difficult to say how much. I have, of course, experienced racism and injustice wherever I’ve been. When I came to Britain from Uganda, confident in who I was, seeing people being excluded because of their colour was a rude awakening to the reality of what the colour black could be made to mean – the denial of our common humanity and our equal partnership as God’s children’.
Born in Uganda in 1949, educated at University of Cambridge (Selwyn College). Chief Magistrate (1971-2), Judge of High Court, Uganda (1972-4). Ordained deacon and priest (1979), and Bishop of Stepney since 1996.
23. Benjamin Zephaniah (b. 1958)
I used to think nurses were women
I used to think police were men
I used to think poets were boring
Until I became one of them’.
Born in Handsworth, Birmingham in 1958 of Jamaican parents. Began to create poetry at a very early age, being strongly influenced by the music and poetry of Jamaica and what he calls ‘street politics’. Since moving to London in 1970, has published nine collections of work, including two for children, and had recorded and toured worldwide. His recorded tribute to Nelson Mandela, in prison at the time, led to an invitation to work with children in South African townships and to hosting the President’s Two Nations Concert in London in 1996.
24. Lenny Henry (b. 1958)
‘My main achievement is to remain sane in this crazy world of show business. One of my most treasured achievements was buying my mum a house and sending her back to Jamaica on holiday’.
Born in 1958, Lenworth George (Lenny) Henry was educated at the Bluecoat Secondary Modern School, the W R Tewson School and Preston College. Won the New Faces Talent Show in 1975. On television, his impressive range of appearances have included his own show, the Lenny Henry Show, which ran from 1984 to 1995, and the popular Chef. Has appeared in several films, including Coast to Coast, Work Experience, Alive and Kicking, and True Identity. Managing Director of his own TV production company.