Portrait in focus: Baroness Lawrence by Thomas Ganter

Baroness Doreen Lawrence speaks about her campaign against injustice, and how she hopes her portrait will become a symbol of support for others.

Baroness Lawrence has been a campaigner for justice since 1993, when her son Stephen was murdered in a racist attack. In this video, she talks about her portrait, which was commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery and painted by Thomas Ganter. She also talks about Stephen’s legacy and her work to support young people, parents and other people facing injustice.

 

  • My name is Baroness Doreen Lawrence.

    The campaigning started back in ‘93, when I was campaigning for justice around my son Stephen, who was murdered back then, and I guess you could say it’s continued till today.

    The Stephen Lawrence Day started back in 2019. The idea around it was looking at his legacy. With the Stephen Lawrence Day Foundation, we've got the three Cs: classroom, communities and careers. And it’s the legacy of Stephen. So, when we go to school, we talk about his legacy. And school and children are also in the community, so they can sort of decide how they like to see their community, and when they’re going to careers, what careers would they like, you know? And I think Stephen wanted to be an architect and so that young people can build on how they see Stephen and how he grew and how they would like to grow.

    When I was first approached about the portrait, I was surprised. I was really surprised. I was very honoured, very honoured to be asked. I think seeing myself in a portrait is always a little bit for me, daunting, I think. I dunno, there's some people who like looking at themselves, and thinking, you know, I wanna be a star. I wanna be. And for me it’s always something that I just think I'd rather be in the background, and not be in the focus of attention. And no matter how much I try, then again, do I try hard enough? ‘Cause I think everything I do does bring me into focus and I’m not doing it because that's what I want. I’m doing it so that Stephen’s legacy and young people can take something from it. And so I think the portrait probably allows them to do that.

    On the 19th of May, when Thomas came up to Leicester to the opening of the Research Centre. The Research Centre has all of Stephen’s, like, his books, his artwork, he was into athletics, so he's got his running shoes. He was part of cub scouts, so it had his jumper in there and his cap. So, all of those things are there for young people to sort of look at Stephen as just an ordinary young boy, growing up. And so to have Thomas there, I'm going to say, the fact that he finds it so moving, I think anybody who visits the centre will see that, because there’s so much of Stephen in there.

    My favourite portrait in the National Portrait Gallery is Mary Seacole, because she reflects what it is to be somebody who wants to help and support others, which is what I tried to do over the years. And to have that there, I think it's a symbol. And I'm hoping that people see my portrait as a symbol. I like visitors to takeaway to see somebody who was campaigning and trying to work and do the best that she could, you know, to support other parents as well as others who are suffering injustice, and just challenging the system where it needs to be challenged.

Learning objectives

  1. Understand who Baroness Doreen Lawrence is, and her significance in British society.
  1. Examine portraits and the creative decisions behind them.
  1. Examine the role portraiture can play in activism.

Watch and discuss

  1. Baroness Doreen Lawrence describes feeling uncomfortable being the focus of attention. Why do you think she sat for the portrait despite this?
  1. Why do you think the artist visited the Stephen Lawrence Research Centre as part of his preparation for the portrait of Baroness Lawrence?
  1. Mary Seacole was a nurse in the 1800s. Why do you think Baroness Lawrence made a connection with her portrait?