Lubaina Himid, born in Zanzibar and raised in England, at age 63 became the oldest artist and the first woman of color to win the 2017 Turner Prize, Britain’s prestigious award for contemporary art. Himid has continually explored themes of immigration, slavery, and racial identity through her various styles of painting and installations.
She attended the Wimbledon College of Art and obtained her B.A. in 1976. She received her M.A. from London’s Royal College of Art in 1984. She is a professor of contemporary art at the University of Central Lancashire and is also a curator who has organized important groups exhibitions of young artists at public institutions in London.
Himid comes out of the BLK Art Group which in 1982 facilitated the First National Black Art Convention put together by black art students in the United Kingdom. Himid, along with three other artists, established the 1980s Black Arts Movement (BAM) in the U.K. In the 1980s, she made eight series of works that referenced Europe’s colonial past where its wealth came from slavery. “I’m absolutely concerned with expressing how people of color have shaped British culture, either by bringing in wealth via slavery, for instance, or how we’ve changed it by our very existence.”
Himid integrated the works of European masters into her art. Having studied stage design enabled her in 1987 to transform William Hogarth’s eighteenth century “Marriage A-la-Mode: 4, The Toilette (The Countess’s Morning Levee)” into “A Fashionable Marriage,” This was a large-scale installation, composed of wooden cutouts on a stage where the black figures in Hogarth’s work were presented as much larger and placed center stage dressed in beautiful clothing.
In 2002, her “Cotton.com” was a series of paintings that recalled an incident from the 1860s when mill workers in northern England refused to process cotton grown in America’s Confederates States. The patterned panels imagined coded conversations between the slaves and the British textile workers.
In 2004, Himid created “Naming the Money,” a monumental series of 100 painted wooden figures, which was part of a group show at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum when the U.K. celebrated the bicentenary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade.
Her 2016 “Le Rodeur: The Exchange” series refers back to the ship, named ‘Rodeur’, which carried 162 African slaves to Guadeloupe in 1819. During the Middle Passage, an eye disease blinded all but one of the passengers. Some of the Africans were thrown overboard for insurance compensation. Those who did arrive in Guadeloupe had their sight restored by herbs given to them by Guadeloupe’s indigenous people. The slaves in her paintings float above or stand in a surreal landscape with their arms reaching out. It is unclear whether they are blind or not.
Himid has shown her work at the Studio Museum in Harlem, Track 17 in Los Angeles, and the Fine Art Academy in Vienna. She has had numerous solo exhibitions in England. She had a retrospective at the MRAC museum for contemporary art in Serignan, France. Others exhibitions took place in Glasgow, Berlin, and Gateshead, England. Her work is found in the permanent collections of the Tate, Victoria & Albert Museum, Arts Council England, International Slavery Museum Liverpool,, as well as numerous galleries in England.