The Government Art Collection has acquired a number of prints by Lubaina Himid CBE via the charity TenTen, which attempt to address the global tragedies of slavery and colonialism. The work Old Boat, New Weather is a collage set in a timeless Western port depicting a leaning shed-like structure on a Tudor-style ship’s hull. Above, the ‘new weather’ is made of layered blue streaks, pointing to the contemporary challenges of man-made political and physical weather.
Speaking to CulturAll at the unveiling of the commission in the State Drawing Room of Number 11 Downing Street, Himid recognised the difficulty her artwork faced as an attempt to hold back time and undo some tragic historical and global mistakes. “It’s a thankless task and one can’t turn back history, but it’s important to me to use art to bring certain issues to the surface. The artwork doesn’t change the world, but that ability to bring up conversations could.”
In collaboration with TenTen and the charity Outset, the Government Art Collection will add a new artwork each year – 11 prints of which will be sold in order to fund further contemporary purchases from new artists.
This latest commission will be curated digitally to expose the work, and others, to a global audience, something Himid sees as necessary in order to amplify the discussion her art encourages. “Clearly, bigger audiences for one’s work is a good thing. The incredible amount of audience you can open a debate [with digital] is key now. You couldn’t take this as seriously unless it was seriously trying to be a global project.”
The artwork’s aesthetic is inspired by French and Polish theatre posters but makes clear references to the commodification of humanity and the ignoble purposes of exploration. The depiction of a port is there to remind us that not all harbours are safe places for all people, says Himid, adding that “the whole of history is in the harbour – but we know that this story will set sail.”
On introducing the artist, Minister of State for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Julia Lopez MP said Himid’s work supported the new secretary of state Nadine Dorries’s “theme about accessibility”. Dorries has much to do to prove that this is not another small political gesture. The addition of this piece to the Government’s collection underlines the imperative of art in international diplomacy – as well as our own domestic narrative.