Ayuba Suleiman Diallo by William Hoare

  • View larger image
[IMAGE] An African man wearing white flowing robes and a white and red turban, with a small red book hanging around his neck.
The first British oil painting to honour a formerly enslaved African person, Ayuba Suleiman Diallo.
Ayuba Suleiman Diallo
by William Hoare
oil on canvas, 1733
30 in. x 25 in. (762 mm x 635 mm)
NPG L245
OM.762. Orientalist Museum, Doha.
On display in Room 12 on Floor 3 at the National Portrait Gallery

Ayuba Suleiman Diallo (1701–73) was an educated man from a family of Islamic leaders in West Africa. His family were involved in the trade in enslaved African people. In 1731, he was captured himself, while on a slave-trading mission. He was transported to America, sold and forced to work on a tobacco Plantation A large area of land, especially in a hot country, where crops such as coffee, sugar and rubber are grown. as part of the Transatlantic slave trade The buying and selling of African people as slaves between the 1500s and 1800s, using trade routes that crossed the Atlantic Ocean. .

In 1733, Diallo was taken to London, where he met educated British people who admired him and treated him as an equal. Decades later, anti-slavery campaigners used Diallo’s story to challenge the racist ideas that underpinned the transatlantic slave trade, helping to put an end to this brutal system.

Diallo was unlike most of the millions of African people who were enslaved. As well as being Cleric A religious leader, especially a Muslim or Christian one. , his family were also traders in enslaved African people. When Diallo eventually gained his freedom, he returned to his previous life in West Africa, including the trade in enslaved people.

Analysing the portrait

  • View larger image
[IMAGE] An African man wearing white flowing robes and a white and red turban, with a small red book hanging around his neck.
Ayuba Suleiman Diallo, by William Hoare, 1733

Look carefully at the portrait. Take your time – look at it for at least a whole minute. What can you see?

    • This portrait of Diallo was painted in England. He chose to wear religious clothing from his home in West Africa, perhaps because this part of his identity was important to him.
    • Diallo is wearing a turban. Some Muslims believe wearing a turban reflects the spirit of Islam The Muslim religion, based on belief in one God and revealed through Muhammad as the Prophet of Allah. and reminds them of God.
    • He is wearing a Qur'an The holy book of the Islamic religion, written in Arabic. around his neck. He wrote it out from memory during the year he spent in England. It represents his education and his religion, which were both important to him.
    • Beards are part of the Islamic tradition. Diallo’s beard was shaved off by his captors when he was enslaved. In this portrait, it is starting to grow back.
    • He has a mark in the centre of his forehead. Muslims pray five times a day which involves kneeling and touching the ground with your forehead. Over long periods of time, a mark or ‘prayer bump’ can develop. Many see this as a sign of dedication to the Islamic faith.
    • Diallo’s pose is formal but also relaxed.
    • He looks directly out at us, the viewer. His eyes are bright and his expression is engaging.
    • He appears confident and dignified.
He becomes the personification of the anti-slavery movement. Even though he is someone whose family have made a fortune from slavery, he becomes this incredible argument against it.
Gus Casely-Hayford, Cultural Historian, 2018

Who was Ayuba Suleiman Diallo?

  • Ayuba Suleiman Diallo was an educated man from a family of Muslim Believing in and practising the religion of Islam. Cleric A religious leader, especially a Muslim or Christian one. in Bindu (present-day Gambia), West Africa.
  • His family were involved in the trade in enslaved African people, as part of the Transatlantic slave trade The buying and selling of African people as slaves between the 1500s and 1800s, using trade routes that crossed the Atlantic Ocean. .
  • Slavery was deeply rooted in African societies. Europeans created the transatlantic slave trade, an extreme and brutal global system, which greatly increased the demand for slave labour.
  • In 1731, Diallo was captured by West African traders, while he himself was on a trading mission for his father. His mission included selling enslaved African people. Diallo was sold to an English trader. He was transported to America, sold again and forced to work as a slave on a tobacco Plantation A large area of land, especially in a hot country, where crops such as coffee, sugar and rubber are grown. .
  • His devotion to the Islamic faith and ability to write in Arabic were recognised by English Colonist A person who settles in an area that has become a colony (a country or an area governed by people from another, more powerful, country). in America. He was taken to London in 1733 where he met educated British people.
  • They were impressed by his abilities, which included writing out three copies of the Qur'an The holy book of the Islamic religion, written in Arabic. from memory.
  • Diallo became a celebrity, mixing with members of high society.
  • His experiences of enslavement were written about in a Memoir An account written by somebody, especially somebody famous, about their life and experiences. , published in 1734. This had a lasting impact on Britain’s understanding of West African culture, Black identity and Islam The Muslim religion, based on belief in one God and revealed through Muhammad as the Prophet of Allah. . It is one of the earliest accounts of someone who had been enslaved.
  • In the same year, Diallo’s admirers collected enough money to buy his freedom.
  • He returned to West Africa and went back to work with his family, including trading in enslaved African people.

Why is this portrait significant?

  • This portrait was painted by William Hoare, a fashionable British artist. It is the earliest known British oil painting to honour a formerly enslaved African person.
  • Slavery erased the identity and freedom of millions of African people. Many British people believed that Africans were less than human. This is the root of racist ideas that still exist today. But Diallo’s portrait contradicts this. It shows an educated man looking out at the viewer as a dignified individual – an equal with his own identity.
  • Diallo influenced how he was presented in his portrait. He told the artist he wanted to be shown in ‘his own country dress’ and wearing a Qur'an The holy book of the Islamic religion, written in Arabic. . This gives us a more genuine view of him.
  • Diallo became a celebrity in Britain. The image in this portrait was used to make prints, so people could own a picture of him.

Questions

  1. What are your impressions of Diallo from this portrait?
  1. Why do you think the stories of Diallo and other people who were enslaved became important to the abolition campaign?
  1. Diallo did not choose to be part of the abolition campaign. How far is it possible to know what Diallo’s views on slavery were?

Next steps

Portraits of enslaved and previously enslaved people are very rare. Many contemporary artists explore these ‘gaps’ in the representations of our history through their work. Try researching artists such as Lubaina Himid, Joy Labinjo or Hannah Uzor.

Reflections

Between the 1500s and 1800s, millions of African people were kidnapped, sold and forced to work on Plantation A large area of land, especially in a hot country, where crops such as coffee, sugar and rubber are grown. in the Caribbean and the Americas as part of the transatlantic slave trade. Britain and other countries grew extremely rich from enslaved people’s labour. Generations of enslaved people resisted and rebelled against their brutal treatment.  

The Transatlantic slave trade The buying and selling of African people as slaves between the 1500s and 1800s, using trade routes that crossed the Atlantic Ocean. represents part of a complex and brutal period in our shared history. It can bring up strong reactions and raise many questions. Consider discussing these with a teacher or an adult you feel comfortable talking to. Use the links in this resource to find out more.