This summer, the corridors of the Arndale will be flooded with more than just the faces of happy shoppers or the models in advertising campaigns. Throughout the 18 days of Manchester International Festival 2021, the shopping centre will play host to a major exhibition of photographs by the renowned artist, speaker and activist, Cephas Williams, marking the first phase in his ambitious project to create the largest ever collection of photographic portraits of Black people living in the UK.
Williams is already well known for his 2019 portrait series, 56 Black Men, which birthed a campaign to challenge the negative stereotyping of Black men in British media; and for his Letter to Zion, a powerful letter to his new-born son following the death of George Floyd, in which he pledged to help dismantle systemic racism in the UK through the creation of the Black British Network – an alliance of business leaders and organisations committed to removing barriers and improving the economic prospects of the Black British community.
Portrait of Black Britain not only seeks to increase the visibility of Black people living in the UK today, but highlight their stories, their achievements, and the contributions they make to society, through Black-led representation. The people photographed come from a wide range of backgrounds, from high-profile figures to those outside of the public limelight. The focus is on individuality, in an attempt to counter notions of the Black community of one monolithic group, and to champion narratives of success over trauma or tragedy. By the end of the project, Williams’ goal is to have created 1,000 portraits.
This promises to be a powerful and affirmative exhibition that rightfully sits at the heart of this year’s festival.