Turner prize-winning artist Lubaina Himid says her award is “bittersweet”

In an interview airing this week Lubaina Himid, the first woman of colour to win the Turner Prize, has revealed she was once told, “black people don’t make art.”

Himid is a Preston-based artist whose artwork focuses on colonial history, racism and institutional invisibility. At the age of 63, Himid was also the oldest recipient of the Turner Prize when she won the prestigious award in 2017. This year she was elected as a Royal Academician in the category of Painting at the Royal Academy of Arts.

Alongside her impressive artistic achievements, Himid is a professor of contemporary art at Central Lancashire University and was awarded an MBE in 2010 for services to black women’s art.

Speaking to Lauren Laverne on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, Himid discussed the challenges faced by her and other artists of colour at the start of her career in 1980s Britain.

I guess the notion of black people being artists was completely alien to people in the British art world”, Himid explained.

Despite feeling thrilled by her Turner award and RA election, the artist described her recent achievements as tinged with an overall sense of frustration.

Being the first black woman was a bit bittersweet, because there are many black women that have been up for it in the recent history of the prize… I was happy to win it, but it was bittersweet”.

Himid’s Turner prizewinning work transformed pages from the Guardian newspaper that featured pictures of black people. By collaging and painting over images and headlines, Himid attempted to overwrite the newspaper’s unconscious racial stereotyping.

She had noticed the media’s “extraordinary habit of placing negative text, about something else entirely, next to images of black people… juxtapositions that are always to do with either violence, prisons or theft“.

The idea for her artwork was sparked in 2007 – the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the British empire – when Himid became frustrated with the negative representation of black people in the media.

Since winning the £25,000 Turner prize, the contemporary artist has received overwhelmingly positive feedback. “What people have said to me is that it gave people hope that things were changing“, reflected Himid.

Throughout her fascinating interview, Himid importantly highlighted the need to continue building upon these changes: “We have to keep vigilant, and just make sure everything is fair“.

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