Cultural Diversity at the National Portrait Gallery
Themes of identity lie at the heart of our work. The Gallery's policy is to represent people of achievement in British history and culture. This policy has remained constant since our foundation in 1856, and we continually review how to fulfil it and how to respond to the changing nature of society.
To read more about the National Portrait Gallery’s commitment to diversity please see our Equality and Diversity policy and Collections Development Policy. This audit of cultural diversity at the Gallery includes research, publications, online resources, exhibitions, displays and projects. Its aim is to highlight the Gallery’s work to date and make research into cultural diversity in our Collection accessible. In addition, our events programme has included a rich mix of activity exploring cultural identity and reflecting the rich diversity of Britain.
Cultural diversity in this context focuses on identity and ethnically diverse representation. Currently for the purpose of searching the catalogue of the collection we are still grouping together Black, Asian and/or minority ethnic sitters and artists. However the Gallery is currently reviewing Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and as part of these plans, we are working in partnership to change the way we explain and contextualise our collections. Linked to this, we are now working with specialist advisors to explore how we drive inclusive transformation across everything we do and that the values we aspire to are manifest in every aspect of our work. We are working on ways to best understand, highlight and improve the representation of groups of people who we know are under-represented in our Collection but also avoid aggregating categories and remove cultural bias. As part of this we are currently reviewing and reorganising content on our website and we have removed and suspended some webpages while we undertake this work.
We have a continual commitment to acquire works for our Collection where there are key gaps. Recent additions include the largest acquisition of portraits of Afro-Caribbean sitters into our primary collection with the Black is the New Black series of 37 photographs by Simon Frederick and portraits of sitters including Sonia Boyce, John Akomfrah, Benjamin Zephaniah, Stormzy, Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Novelist and Prem, Jorja Smith, Adwoa Aboah, Chi Onwurah, Thelma Golden and Duro Olowu, Julie Adenuga, Skepta and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.
For further information please see our Collections Development Policy
Portraits in the Collection that include representations of Black, Asian and/or minority ethnic people are currently tagged with the term Diversity. This search term is included in the Advanced Collection Search, under Search by Portrait > Subjects and Themes > Theme. Currently there are almost 3000 portraits, including those where the identity of the sitter is yet to be identified.
Black, Asian, minority and/or ethnic people sitters in the Collection (those whose identity is known) have been tagged in the group Black, Asian and minority ethnic sitters. This search term is included in the Advanced Collection Search (under Search by Person > Group > Sitter grouping) where it can be combined with other filters.
The People, Portraits and Places page highlights the portraits, sitters, artists in the Collection that are linked to a specific country.
Faces and Places project
Faces and Places is an ambitious schools outreach programme that uses the Gallery’s diverse Collection of portraits to creatively explore connections between people and place.
Portrait of Mai
Sir Joshua Reynolds’ spectacular Portrait of Mai (Omai) holds a pivotal place in global art history, depicting the first Polynesian to visit Britain, and is widely regarded as the finest portrait by one of Britain’s greatest artists.
Black History Month online activities archive, October 2022
National Skills Sharing Partnership Programme project
The films developed by the Gallery’s National Skills Sharing Partnership Programme aim to facilitate specialist knowledge exchange within the sector. The partnership programme is a learning network of 13 organisations across the UK which work together to share practice and knowledge while collaboratively exploring the relevance of portraiture to society today, many of them include a focus on identity and representation
South Asian Heritage Month, August 2022
Blog celebrating South Asian Heritage Month, sharing stories and portraits of pivotal members from the South Asian community across our channels.
Windrush Day, June 2022
The John Blanke Project: Black Art in Tudor Britain, blog by Michael I. Ohajuru
Visible / Invisible programme
In summer 2021, the Gallery worked on a new collaborative project ‘Visible / Invisible’ in East London with The Line (London’s first dedicated public art walk) and London College of Fashion (LCF) to explore themes of identity and representation in the digital and public realms.
Secrets of a portrait
Author Malorie Blackman, best known for her Noughts and Crosses series, was Children’s Laureate from 2013 to 2015. In celebration of her birthday on 8 February 2022, we spoke to photographer and film director Simon Frederick about the portrait he took of Blackman as part of his 2016 series, Black is the New Black.
Exhibitions, events and displays
Cameroon – London (2005) – display and arts residencies Joseph Chila and Samuel Finlak
The Raj: India and the British 1600-1947 (Winter 1990-1991): No webpage on the Gallery’s website but the catalogue is The Raj: Indian and the British 1600 – 1974 by C.A. Bayly
Central to our future plans is the the Gallery’s Inspiring People Redevelopment Project:
There is a complete redisplay of the Gallery. A core aim of this will be to tell the stories of those who are currently missing or under-represented and to feature multiple voices from multiple sources, including audience participation programmes from a range of communities.
- Research Study on Representation of ‘Ethnic Minorities’ in the Collection of the NPG by Caroline Bressey 2001. Sponsored by the Hollick Trust. Research document available in the Heinz Archive and Library
- Black Victorians: Black People in British Art 1800 – 1900. 2005 publication edited by Jan Marsh
- Alternative Histories: Reflections on Middle Eastern and North African Portraiture, Photography, Art, Documentary, Illustration and Fashion Today. Photo essay by Malu Halasa, 2012