Portrait of Bernie Grant Unveiled at Houses of Parliament

A new portrait of one of Britain’s first black MPs, Bernie Grant (1944-2000) and the namesake of the Bernie Grant Arts Centre, has been unveiled in Parliament. Drawn in pencil and charcoal by artist Kelvin Okafor, the portrait of the former Labour MP for Tottenham will join the Parliamentary Art Collection.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the election of Bernie Grant, Diane Abbott and Paul Boateng as the first ever black MPs, and Keith Vaz as the first MP of Asian descent since the 1920s.

Guyana-born Bernie Grant is well remembered for his passionate work campaigning for racial equality and against oppression, as well as making his mark in the House of Commons by wearing a traditional Ghanaian cotton robe at the State Opening of Parliament.

Sharon Grant OBE, Bernie Grant’s widow and a member of the Board of Trustees here at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre, said: ‘In his day, Bernie was often seen as controversial in demanding equality and justice. By the end of his life however, he was held in great respect, not only by his Tottenham constituents and the wider black community, but nationally and internationally.

‘The family is very proud that his contribution is increasingly recognised, and honoured that this superb portrait will now be included in the Parliamentary Art Collection.’

Kelvin Olafor, who grew up in Tottenham, said, ‘When drawing a person, it has always been important for me to meet them in the flesh and spend time absorbing their essence. As I wasn’t able to do so in this case, I intensely studied video footage and countless photographs at the Bernie Grant Archive in Bishopsgate Institute.

‘It was one of the most technically challenging drawings I’ve ever created, but also the most rewarding as I truly felt a deep connection with the subject. It was almost as though he were alive communicating with me whilst I drew him.’

The portrait was unveiled by Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Opposition, alongside David Lammy, MP for Tottenham. You can read more about the portrait and its unveiling on the Huffington Post.

Many thanks to the Parliamentary Art Collection and photographer David Tothill for kind permission to use these images.