Display | Ben Okri on Ayuba Suleiman Diallo

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on September 5, 2013

From the NPG:

Ben Okri on Ayuba Suleiman Diallo: A Dialogue Across Time
National Portrait Gallery, London, 20 September 2013 — 16 March 2014

Ayuba Suleiman Diallo (Job ben Solomon) by William Hoare oil on canvas, 1733 30 in. x 25 in. (762 mm x 635 mm) Lent by Qatar Museums Authority/Orientalist Museum, Doha, OM 762, Qatar Museums Authority: Doha: Qatar, 2010 Primary Collection NPG L245

William Hoare, Portrait of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo (Job ben Solomon), 1733 (NPG L245, Lent by Qatar Museums Authority/Orientalist Museum, Doha, 2010)

Ayuba Suleiman Diallo was an educated man from a family of Muslim clerics in West Africa. In 1731 he was taken into slavery and sent to work on a plantation in America. By his own enterprise, and assisted by a series of spectacular strokes of fortune, Diallo arrived in London in 1733. Recognised as a deeply pious and educated man, in England Diallo mixed with high and intellectual society, was introduced at Court and was bought out of slavery by public subscription. Through the publication of his Memoirs in 1734, Diallo had an important and lasting impact on Britain’s understanding of West African culture, black identity and Islam. In the early years of the nineteenth-century, advocates of the abolition of slavery would cite Diallo as a key figure in asserting the moral rights and humanity of black people.

Booker-prize winning Ben Okri is one of Britain’s finest writers. Fascinated with the enigmatic story of Diallo, and his relevance today, Okri embarked on a series of conversations to explore the painting and its impact with audiences at the National Portrait Gallery and its regional partners in Liverpool, South Shields and Leicester. Okri’s new poem, which is part of the display, is inspired by this journey of discovery into the moving and sometimes uncomfortable story of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo and a portrait which raises many questions.

The tour and display has been made possible by the generosity of Thomson Reuters, the Qatar Museums Authority and individual Gallery supporters. The display and its interpretation is complemented by a series of talks and events funded by the American Friends of the National Portrait Gallery, including a conversation between Ben Okri and Gus Casely-Hayford.

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