Greene Naftali is pleased to announce its representation of LUBAINA HIMID, in collaboration with Hollybush Gardens, London. A self-described “painter and a cultural activist,” Himid rose to prominence in the 1980s as a pioneer of the British Black Arts Movement, and a staunch advocate for the contributions of women of color to the visual arts. As an independent curator as well as a studio artist, she organized groundbreaking exhibitions (such as 1985's The Thin Black Line at the ICA London) that embodied a more inclusive vision of contemporary art in the UK, showing her own work and that of her peers in institutional settings that were typically denied them.
Over the past decade Himid has gained international acclaim, known for works that expose the human toll of empire while affirming the centrality of Black subjects. Trained in theater design, Himid’s practice unfurls across a range of media, from traditional canvas to life-sized cut-outs in elaborate scenes, to other sculptural installations that repurpose domestic objects such as wooden doors, tableware, and the backs and undersides of discarded furniture.
Himid’s celebrated 1986 tableau A Fashionable Marriage marked an early touchstone, expanding painting’s material horizons and its narrative potential. A withering take on an 18th-century British painting remade to reflect an unjust present, the artist replaced the historical figures with cut-outs of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and a sumptuously dressed stand-in for Himid herself in the role of the Black servant, in a sly nod to the power imbalances that still steer the art world.
Labor and those who perform (yet are never defined by) it is a mainstay of Himid’s work, as seen in her 2004 installation Naming the Money, an array of 100 painted stage flats in the shape of enslaved people of different occupations. Their anonymity in official histories has been supplanted with names and life stories affixed to a mock bill of sale on their backs, restoring voice through a soundtrack that speaks each first-person claim to selfhood aloud.
Born in Zanzibar in 1954, Himid immigrated to London as an infant, and maritime themes of arrival or displacement recur in her work—nods to both her own origins and the wider experience of the African diaspora. Bold in line and vibrant in hue, her tautly composed paintings on canvas deliver a signature blend of stylized depiction and psychological depth. Troubling details can emerge from seductively rendered, jewel-toned scenes—as Fred Moten has noted, Himid’s formal allure and “celebration in, and of, color” serve to fortify her seriousness of purpose, becoming “the ultimate solemnity.” The Le Rodeur series (2016-18) takes its name from a slave ship on which a mysterious eye affliction broke out midway through its transatlantic crossing, blinding most of the crew and human cargo and leading to the murder of 39 captured Africans, many of whom were thrown overboard as “damaged goods." An unspeakable episode that also resonates with the perceptual dynamics that guide how we view works of art, Himid alludes to the event while holding space for scenes of nuanced encounter, reimagining the relations that might have been between people whose lives and stories were otherwise lost. “Characters are not always in the same time zone or history zone,” Himid has said. “They crisscross through time and talk to each other (and you) about how the past holds clues to the present, and is a place of potential action.”
Awarded the Turner Prize in 2017—the first Black woman to receive this honor—Himid was the subject of a major solo exhibition at Tate Modern in 2021-22. She will be the 2024 recipient of the Suzanne Deal Booth / FLAG Art Foundation Prize, with related solo exhibitions at The Contemporary Austin and the FLAG Art Foundation, New York.