Artist Nahem Shoa generously donated two works to the Ferens Art Gallery.
Shoa initially contacted Kerri Offord, Art Curator, to see if the Ferens were interested in acquiring a Shoa portrait of her friend, the artist Desmond Haughton.
Portrait of Desmond Haughton (1989) was started in March and finished in April 1989. The portrait was painted from their life in their student home in Old Trafford, Manchester, where they both lived.
From 1988 to 1991 they were both studying BA Fine Art (Painting) at Manchester Polytechnic (now known as Manchester Metropolitan University). The portrait was painted at night after college and involved Haughton sitting for five one-hour sessions over a number of weeks. Around the same time, in 1989, Nahem had just won first prize at the Under 30s Show in the Manchester Academy’s annual exhibition at the Athenaeum, which proved that his early works had a maturity and clarity of vision and technique. of a mature artist.
The painting was made on board and originally showed himself and his friend Haughton. The two were the only different students in their class: Haughton was black and Shoa of mixed Asian descent. Shoa talked about the challenges of being a non-white artist in the art world, but also about Haughton’s support in pushing him to become a better artist.
Nahem Shoa said: “The portrait was originally designed as a double portrait with me over her right shoulder, but I felt the image worked best as a single portrait.
“Desmond Haughton is one of my oldest and best friends and I have known him since we met at age 11, studying at Holland Park Comprehensive, London. He is an exceptional painter in his own right and over the years we have pushed each other to become better artists. “
Speaking about the context of his works, Shoa said: “Many of my black friends who posed for me many times over a period of thirty years felt that when they went to museums the only images of blacks were of slaves or servants, that everything found it very negative. I wanted to tackle this problem again by including my contemporary black portraits of Black Britons in the collections of museums and art galleries in the British Isles because they and I think it is important for cultural institutions today to reflect diversity in a positive and powerful way. “
Kerri Offord, Curator of Art at Ferens Art Gallery, said: “Nahem emailed me in January to ask if we were interested in accepting one of his works as a gift to the Ferens collection and the people of Hull. I knew Nahem for his reputation as an artist and curator addressing the lack of portraits of black and brown people represented in art history and public collections. I was very excited to learn that he was offering one of the first paintings made when he was only 19. “
When Shoa visited the Ferens to give the painting as a gift, he was discussing the collection with curator Kerri Offord when they started talking about the collection of nude works held by the Ferens. Offord expressed a desire to fill a gap within this collection by acquiring a nude from a female artist, as all depictions of nude women were by men. Shoa was struck by this comment and generously offered a work that had been given to him by his friend, the artist Louise Courtnell.
Courtnell is an artist inspired by Dutch masters, such as Rembrandt van Rijn and Johannes Vermeer. He has exhibited seven times at the prestigious Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery and his work is in the collection of Royal Holloway College. The stillness of his work echoes that of Gwen John, which is evident in his quietly emotional self-portraits.
Louise Courtnell said: “Throughout history most of the paintings of female nudes have been painted by male artists to satisfy the sexual tastes of male collectors. As a female artist I wanted to take back ownership of this subject and give it a new meaning. I wanted the female nude to be seen through a woman’s perspective.
“When I paint myself naked, I try to paint what I see as honestly as possible, with no makeup or flattery attempts because I am happy in my skin and I think that deepens the kind of beauty. I don’t like how society only defines a female form type as beautiful because I see all women’s bodies as gorgeous and amazing. There are very few female nude self-portraits in the history of art and I hope my portrait adds something fresh and new to this theme. “
Kerri Offord added: “We are thrilled that Louise’s work is included in the Ferens collection. Her talent is undeniable and the photographic reproductions do not do justice to her work. The manipulation of the paint creates a great feeling of emotion and quiet introspection that must be appreciated in person.
“It’s great to finally have a female nude by a female artist in the collection. She adds to the conversation and helps create a fresh new narrative when looking at the female nude historians of male artists. “
Councilor Pritchard, HCAL Head of Hull City Council, said, “I would like to thank Nahem Shoa and Louise Courtnell for their generous donations, we are extremely privileged to be able to exhibit the works of these two amazing artists. I would encourage the locals to see and appreciate the works firsthand ”.
Both the works of Nahem Shoa and Louise Courtnell will be exhibited in the Ferens Gallery 9 from Saturday 25 June.