Everlyn Nicodemus (‘Självporträtt, Åkersberga’) by Everlyn Nicodemus

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    Everlyn Nicodemus ('Självporträtt, Åkersberga' [Self-portrait, Akersberga]),    by Everlyn Nicodemus,    1982,    NPG 7130,    © the Artist, Courtesy Richard Saltoun Gallery
A self-portrait by Everlyn Nicodemus with multiple faces, reflecting her different experiences and roles in life.
Everlyn Nicodemus ('Självporträtt, Åkersberga' [Self-portrait, Akersberga])
by Everlyn Nicodemus
oil on canvas, 1982
32 1/4 in. x 24 3/8 in. (820 mm x 620 mm) overall
NPG 7130
© the Artist, Courtesy Richard Saltoun Gallery
On display in Room 29 on Floor 1 at the National Portrait Gallery

Everlyn Nicodemus (born 1954) is an artist, writer and Curate To select, organize and look after the objects or works of art in a museum or an art gallery.  . She has been described as ‘one of the strongest Feminist Having or based on the belief that women should have the same rights and opportunities as men. voices to emerge from eastern Africa in the past 30 years’.  

Nicodemus’s art explores both her own experience as a woman and the experiences of other women. Her work also addresses the racism and Marginalised Being prevented from participating fully in society because of a lack of access to rights, resources and opportunities. that she faced when she moved to Europe from eastern Africa, and the trauma this caused. The healing power of art is an important aspect of her work. She has described her paintings as expressing ‘the triumph of the human spirit over suffering’.

Analysing the portrait

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    Everlyn Nicodemus ('Självporträtt, Åkersberga' [Self-portrait, Akersberga]),    by Everlyn Nicodemus,    1982,    NPG 7130,    © the Artist, Courtesy Richard Saltoun Gallery
Everlyn Nicodemus ('Självporträtt, Åkersberga' [Self-portrait, Akersberga]), by Everlyn Nicodemus, 1982

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

    • There appear to be multiple heads in the painting. These overlap and are clustered in the centre of the canvas, but face in different directions. 
    • Nicodemus has combined different styles within the painting. Some of the heads look more realistic while others are abstract. 
    • The heads appear to weigh heavily on each other and on the thin neck that supports them. 
    • All the heads in the portrait represent Nicodemus. She shows herself from different angles and perspectives, representing the different sides of herself. 
    • The self-portrait reflects the various roles she is expected to play, and her Identity Who or what somebody is, including their characteristics, feelings or beliefs. as a mother, lover, friend, daughter – alongside her identities as a writer and an artist. 
    • The self-portrait also reflects her Identity Who or what somebody is, including their characteristics, feelings or beliefs. as a Black woman and the racism she experienced living in Sweden. The multiple heads perhaps represent the various ways in which she was seen by others, and how different this was from the reality of who she is.   
    • Nicodemus experiments with different ways of expressing her Identity Who or what somebody is, including their characteristics, feelings or beliefs. using paint. 
    • She has contrasted vibrant colours with Muted Colours that are not bright. colours, and flat shapes with textures. These different colours and textures help to define the different faces and emphasise the contrasting Identity Who or what somebody is, including their characteristics, feelings or beliefs. . 
    • Although the heads overlap and seem to blend into each other in places, they have distinct faces and features (perhaps reflecting the distinct identities that combine to make her who she is).
    • There are multiple heads in the portrait. The abstract faces are formed of simple shapes of flat colour. Some features have a ‘cut-out’ graphic look. 
    • The other two heads have more realistic features, and their colour is more natural. 
    • The surface of the painting is a rich mix of different textures and thicknesses of paint. Nicodemus experiments with different approaches to mark-making.  
    • In some areas the rough texture of the canvas shows through. In other areas (such as the long neck at the bottom of the painting) she seems to have scratched zigzags and geometric shapes into the paint. 
I refuse to be a prisoner of racism, sexism and the past.
Everlyn Nicodemus, 2022

Who is Everlyn Nicodemus?

  • Everlyn Nicodemus was born in Tanzania, eastern Africa. Her grandmother was an important influence on her and made sure Nicodemus and her brothers were treated equally as they were growing up.
  • Nicodemus moved to Sweden in 1973. There, she encountered racism for the first time in her life. She has said: ‘I didn’t know about “othering”. When I came to Sweden, it was the first time I looked at my skin and said, “Ah, I’m Black.”’  
  • Nicodemus also lived in France and Belgium before settling in Scotland, where she now lives. Throughout her travels, she has taken an active involvement in the local community and interviewed women from all walks of life, including sex workers, cleaners and doctors.
  • She reflects this – particularly the shared experiences and traumas of women – in her writing and art.
  • Her experiences of dealing with Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) A mental health condition triggered by a particularly frightening, shocking or dangerous event or experience. and personal grief, and her research investigating African art that relates to human suffering within society, are also major factors in her work.

Why is this portrait significant?

  • Nicodemus painted this self-portrait after a decade of living in Sweden. She has spoken about the racism she faced when she moved to Europe and the assumptions people made about her.
  • The title of this portrait, Självporträtt, Åkersberga, means ‘Self-portrait, Åkersberga’. Åkersberga is a town in Sweden where she was living when she made it.
  • The self-portrait shows Nicodemus exploring her Identity Who or what somebody is, including their characteristics, feelings or beliefs. and her sense of self after years of having her identity defined by others. It reveals a rare inward look by an artist who mostly tries to understand and voice the experiences of other women. 
  • This was the first painted self-portrait by a Black female artist to become part of the National Portrait Gallery’s Collection.

Questions

  1. How many heads or faces can you see in Everlyn Nicodemus’s self-portrait?
  1. What do you think these heads or faces say about her?
  1. How many different faces might you include in your own self-portrait?
  1. What would they say about you and your identity?