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.

Our Collection

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. 

Discover our most recent acquisitions

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.

Recent projects 

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.

Faces and places

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.

Securing the Portrait of Mai

Black History Month online activities archive, October 2022

Black History Month

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

National Skills Sharing Partnership Programme films

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.

Looking to the Collection with South Asian Heritage Month

Windrush Day, June 2022

Looking to the Collection: Windrush Day

The John Blanke Project: Black Art in Tudor Britain, blog by Michael I. Ohajuru

The John Blanke Project: Black Art in Tudor Britain

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.

Our work with East London students on the Visible / Invisible programme

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.

Secrets of a Portrait: Malorie Blackman

Exhibitions, events and displays

See all:

What’s on


The Time is Always Now: Artists Reframe the Black Figure


Windrush 75: Alex Pascall in conversation with Jacqueline McKenzie

Inspiring Photographs: Collecting for the Future (2019-20)

Indian Nobility in Britain (2019)

Njideka Akunyili Crosby: ‘The Beautyful Ones.’ (2018-19)

Black is the New Black: Portraits by Simon Frederick (2018-19)

Michael Jackson: On the Wall (2018)

Black Chronicles: Photographic Portraits 1862 – 1948 (2016)

Ben Okri on Ayuba Suleiman Diallo: a Dialogue Across Time (2012-2014)

George Catlin: American Indian Portraits (2013)

Cornelia Sorabji: India’s First Woman Lawyer (2013)

Diplomatic Dignitaries (2013)

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (2013)

Victorian Connections (2012)

Chasing Mirrors (2009 – 2012)

Contemporary Connections: The Singh Twins (2010)

The Indian Portrait 1560 – 1860 (2010)

Soft Lights and Sweet Music: Photographs of Elizabeth Welch (2009)

Want to see more of me?: Donald MacLellan (2008)

Different Worlds: Contemporary Responses to Migration (2007)

Devotional (2007)

Four Corners (2007)

Dadabhai Naoroji (2007)

Between Worlds: Voyagers to Britain 1700-1850 (2007)

Benjamin’s Britain (2006)

Cherish: Chinese Families in Britain (2006)

Chinese Connections (2006)

In Dahomey, Photographs by Horace Ové (2005)

Cameroon – London (2005) – display and arts residencies Joseph Chila and Samuel Finlak

Frida Kahlo: Portrait of an Icon (2005)

The World’s Most Photographed (2005)

Anna May Wong (2004-5)

Off The Beaten Track: Three Centuries of Women Travellers (2004)

You Look Beautiful Like That: The Portrait Photographs of Seydou Keita and Malick Sidibé (2003)

Before Windrush (2002)

Black Power: Photographs by Donald MacLellan (1998)

Dawoud Bey (1998) – Dawoud Bey had a residency at the Gallery in 1998 and worked with high school and college students from three schools in London. He photographed Stuart Hall during the residency.

Ignatius Sancho: An African Man of Letters (1997)

David Livingstone and the Victorian Encounter with Africa (1996)

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

Inspiring People

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.


Read our Equality and Diversity policy

See our anti-racism commitment