Skip to main content

Hatton Gallery diversifies collection with painting by Nahem Shoa

Artist Nahem Shoa has gifted a painting to Newcastle University’s Hatton Gallery, as part of his ongoing campaign to increase the representation of Black people in British museums and galleries.

20 July 2021

Reflecting diversity

The work, Portrait of Gbenga Ilumoko Wearing a Red Top, 1998, is a portrait of his friend and fellow artist, which was painted from life during two morning sittings.

Shoa said: “Many of my black friends who posed for me over a twenty-year period, felt that when they went to museums the only images of black people are of slaves or servants, which they all found very negative.

“I wanted to readdress this issue by getting my contemporary portraits of Black British people in collections of museums and art galleries across Britain, because I think it’s important for cultural institutions today to reflect diversity in a positive and powerful way.”

Professor Richard Talbot, Director of the Institute for Creative Arts Practice at Newcastle University said: Nahem Shoa is a highly accomplished artist, and this painting adds significantly to both the depth and the breadth of the Hatton’s permanent collection, which has works ranging from the 14th century right up to the present day."

Julie Milne, Chief Curator of Art Galleries at Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, said: “We are very grateful to the artist for this generous gift, which will help us to diversify our collection. It is a wonderful addition to the Hatton collection, and we are currently exploring options for exhibiting the painting in the future.”

Nahem Shoa

Nahem Shoa is best known for his series of portraits collectively called Giant Heads, which were painted up to 15 times life size. These works were painted from life, and were exhibited at Bury Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry's Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Hartlepool City Art Gallery and Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery.

The artist generously gifted a painting from this series to another Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums venue. Head of Desiree, 2000-2001, was acquired by the Laing Art Gallery in 2017, where it is now on display in the 100 Years of Collecting exhibition.

Speaking of his artistic practice, Shoa said: “I never paint portraits from photographs and have always worked with a live model. For me, Realism in painting is not about some fixed idea of just putting in as many photographic illustrational details onto a canvas, but about attempting to discover through the act of looking what as yet you have not seen. Only then after many layers of accrued facts placed onto the canvas does Realism become Art.”


Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, which manages Hatton Gallery on behalf of Newcastle University, has recently published its Anti-Racism statement and is part of the North East Culture Against Racism Group. This acquisition is a small step towards achieving its aim of collecting more objects and stories of relevance to minoritised ethnic groups.

This portrait is not currently on display due to commitments for temporary exhibitions, but the gallery is exploring options for displaying it in the future. To find out what’s on at Hatton Gallery visit here.

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences