Two-Sides of the Same Coin

The Mainstream Recognition of Lubaina Himid and Plight of Migrants Stuck in Libya

Renowned for her artwork on racial politics and the legacy of slavery, British artist Lubaina Himid is finally receiving the mainstream recognition she deserves. Born in the semi-autonomous Zanzibar region of Tanzania, Himid is the winner of this year’s Turner Prize. The mainstream acknowledgement of her work follows the recent revelation of sub-Saharan African migrants being reportedly auctioned in Libya.

At the age of 63, Lubaina Himid is not only the oldest person to win the award following the removal of the 50-or-younger age restriction rule this year, she is also the first black woman to receive the award.

Lubaina Himid (left) was congratulated by presenter Goldie and Maria Balshaw, director at Tate, the institution that houses the United Kingdom's national collection of British art, and international modern and contemporary. Photo: BBC

Referred to as “the under-appreciated hero of black British art” by the Daily Telegraph, Himid is one of the pioneers of the British Black Arts Movement. She first came to prominence in the 1980s for curating exhibitions for other artists that she perceived as overlooked, as well as for her own art work.

Lubaina Himid at Ferens Gallery in Hull during her Le Rodeur: The Exchange exhibition. Photo: Darren O'Brien/Guzelian

Himid’s work has always been about shedding light on issues that have plagued black people and Africans historically, including the legacy of slavery.

Her work has also been influenced by the impact of migrants on British art.

As part of a 2012 exhibition on the influence of migrants on British art, Himid's piece Between the Two My Heart (the cover photo for this article) was displayed among the work of other artists that migrated to the UK over the past five centuries.

On the issue of slavery, one of Himid's hallmark projects, Naming the Money, consists of 100 life-size painted cut-out figures.

Each cut-out display both their real identity, and also the new one they have acquired as slaves.

Each character is also accompanied by an individualized story.

The hundred cut-outs consist of ceramicists, herbalists, toy makers, dog trainers, drummers, viol de gamba players, dancers, shoemakers, map makers and painters.

Lubaina Himid's art is diverse and includes paintings, prints, drawings and installations.

This piece is from Lubaina Himid's Swallow Hard: The Lancaster Dinner Service installation at the Judges’ Lodgings in Lancaster, which featured images of the slave trade painted on a 100-piece dinner service. Lancaster was directly involved in the slave trade as a major UK port. Photo: David Levene / The Guardian

The well overdue mainstream recognition that Lubaina Himid is receiving comes in the wake of shocking news reports and video footage showing Sub-Saharan African migrants in Libya reportedly being sold as slaves. After obtaining video footage showing African migrants being auctioned to the highest bidder in Libya, CNN travelled to the country to further investigate the issue, which led to a series of articles and reports in close collaboration with IOM, the UN Migration Agency.

IOM first reported in April 2017 on the presence of “slave market” conditions in Libya after two migrants testified being kidnapped and sold, as well as being tortured. They were released once their families managed to pay the ransoms.

With the reach and investigative reporting of CNN, the horrid conditions that migrants have found themselves in broke into mainstream media, and also the agenda of policy makers.

Libya has long been a destination for people seeking employment opportunities. But in recent years, it has become the launching-pad for sub-Saharan migrants hoping to reach Europe for a better future.

The last part of the journey, has its own well documented tragedies, with over 3,000 people having drowned in the Mediterranean in 2017, for the fourth consecutive year, while trying to make the perilous crossing.

However, in the case of thousands of migrants held in detention centres and in the hands of criminal groups in Libya, attempting the journey is not an option, nor is it to return home.

Three days after CNN broke the story, French superstar Paul Pogba took the issue to previously unimaginable heights with his "shackled celebration" after scoring against Newcastle United.

Celebrities such as Manchester United's Paul Pogba have played a major role in keeping this issue alive.

As of 1 December 2017, IOM has registered more than 400,000 migrants in Libya, but the total number of migrants is estimated to be between 700,000 to 1 million. A large number of them have expressed a wish to return to their countries of origin, and IOM is now scaling up its air operations out of Libya to assist them. IOM’s initial effort will focus on helping 15,000 migrants return and reintegrate into their countries of origin by the end of the year.

The rampant migrant abuses taking place in Libya are not new, but only began to receive the attention and recognition it deserves after the recent CNN reporting.
Lubaina Himid's work spanning across the last three decades had also yet to garner mainstream acknowledgement until her Turner Prize award. Both Himid's work and the situation of thousands of migrants stuck in Libya are now finally under the spotlight, and have propelled the historic but also current plight of migrants onto the mainstream agenda.