Lubaina Himid

Born 1954 Tanzania (then the Sultanate of Zanzibar)


Lubaina Himid was born in 1954 in Tanzania and moved to the UK with her mother when she was four months old. In the mid-1970s she studied Theatre Design at Wimbledon College of Art and Cultural History at the Royal College of Art, London. In the 1980s she became a key figure in the British Black Arts movement, creating work which engaged with feminist and anti-racist theory to comment on the politics of representation. Her works, which span the mediums of painting, printmaking, drawing and installation, celebrate Black creativity and reclaim African imagery appropriated by twentieth-century European artists such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. 

Throughout her career Himid has organised important exhibitions of work by Black women, including Black Woman Time Now at Battersea Arts Centre (1983) and The Thin Black Line at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (1985), which included works by Maud Sulter and Chila Kumari Singh Burman (both also represented in the WAC). In 2017 Himid won the Turner Prize becoming the first woman of colour to win the prize. She is Emeritus Professor of Contemporary Art at the University of Central Lancashire. 


Artwork Information

The two paintings in the WAC were part of Himid’s solo exhibition at Chisenhale Gallery in London, The Ballad of the Wing, in 1989. Presenting a fictional collection of Black cultural objects, the exhibition was both ‘an homage to Black Creativity’ and ‘a critique of theft and denial’ at play in Western museums. (Lubaina Himid. 1990.’The Ballad Of The Wing,’ AND Journal Of Art 21: 13-14.)

In Spinster Salt’s Collection (1989)

In Spinster Salt’s Collection features an ancient Egyptian mirror and a pair of sistra – rattle-like instruments used in dance and religious ceremonies in the worship of the ancient Egyptian goddess Hathor. Most often represented as either a cow or a woman with bovine ears, Hathor was venerated as the goddess of prosperity, joy and beauty, as well as music and dance. Himid uses text to draw our attention to the fictional collector who once owned these precious items: a spinster. The word simultaneously evokes care and offence: originally used to designate women who wove as a profession, it subsequently became a derogatory term to describe an unmarried woman. The composition is reminiscent of a museum display, yet the impression of care and order is supplanted by the numerical disorder. This detail conveys a sense of neglect towards the objects and their collector, undermining their importance.

Sour Grapes (1989)

Sour Grapes depicts a tentacle-like shape reaching for a bunch of grapes. Often playing with language in her works, here Himid references the double meaning of the phrase ‘sour grapes’: literally, grapes that have an acidic taste, usually because they are unripe, and metaphorically, an object that somebody pretends to despise because they cannot obtain it. The phrase derives from Aesop’s fable The Fox and the Grapes, which shows Himid’s interest in the myths and stories which shape cultural heritage. Loosely painted in a palette of pink and black, the work shows Himid’s ability to use colour and form in a way which borders on abstraction while retaining an underlying political meaning.