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Portrait of history-making black MP unveiled in Parliament

TRIBUTE: Artist Kelvin Okafor, Bernie Grant’s widow Sharon and Tottenham MP David Lammy stand alongside the new portrait

A NEW portrait of one of Britain’s first black MPs, Bernie Grant was unveiled in Parliament yesterday.

Artist Kelvin Okafor spent 180 hours using pencil and charcoal to produce the portrait of the former Labour MP for Tottenham will now 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 Grant, who passed away in 2000, was lauded by many in the black community for his passionate work campaigning for racial equality and challenging discrimination.

INSPIRATION

After his death former Prime Minister Tony Blair described Grant as “an inspiration to black British communities everywhere” for his work in championing of social and racial justice.

After entering the House of Commons as the Member of Parliament for Tottenham Grant immediately made headlines by wearing a traditional Ghanaian cotton robe at the State Opening of Parliament.

Okafor revealed that the image became his key point of reference.

He said: “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.”

POWERFUL

Okafor added: “The image that I ended up predominantly using as reference was of Bernie Grant wearing an African Dashiki at his first day of the State Opening at Parliament. It was a powerful statement which I felt represented pride, dignity and the inclusion of ethnic minorities in such institutions. I was born in London, 1985 and was brought up in Tottenham - two years before Bernie Grant became MP for Tottenham. I feel privileged to know that he served as my borough's MP during my childhood."

In Parliament, Grant was forthright in his criticism of discriminatory policing methods, immigration rules and institutionalised racism in health.

PROUD: Sharon Grant beside the portrait of her late husband

He was a strong advocate for housing and education, and for greater resources for inner city areas.

Internationally, he took a leading role in establishing contacts with black communities and politicians throughout the world, demanding recognition of Britain’s colonial past.

Bernie Grant’s widow, Sharon Grant OBE said: “In his day Bernie was often seen as controversial in demanding equality and justice, locally, across the UK, and globally. 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.”

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