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A portrait of resilience

HISTORIC: Diane Abbott MP, oil on canvas by Stuart Pearson Wright, 2004 (© Parliamentary Art Collection, WOA 6270)

PARLIAMENT HAS loaned a portrait of Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP Diane Abbott MP to the People’s History Museum in Manchester.

The portrait will feature in Represent! Voices 100 Years On, a new crowdsourced exhibition which reflects on those who fought for better representation.

The exhibition marks the 100th anniversary of Parliament passing the Representation of the People Act, which gave most men and some women in the UK the right to vote.

The objects on display highlight the people who campaigned for better representation and question how far society has progressed in a century.

In 1987, Diane Abbott made history by becoming the first ever black woman elected to the UK parliament.

She has since built a distinguished parliamentary career, including serving on a number of parliamentary committees on social and international issues. Since 2015 she has served in the Labour shadow cabinet.

In recognition of Diane Abbott’s important place in parliamentary history, the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art commissioned artist Stuart Pearson Wright to paint her portrait. The work was unveiled in 2004 and usually hangs as part of the contemporary portrait collection in Portcullis House.

Alison McGovern MP, chair of the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art said: “As the first ever black female MP, Diane Abbott’s membership of the House of Commons is a significant event in history.

“The Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art is delighted to loan the portrait of Abbott to the People’s History Museum for their important exhibition, Represent! Voices 100 Years On.”

Abbott said: “I am pleased that my portrait, which is usually on display at Parliament, will be exhibited at the People’s History Museum for this thought-provoking exhibition.

“I hope it helps encourage visitors to reflect on how much we have achieved in the last 100 years, and how far we still have to go.”

Speaking about how the portrait came about, the shadow home secretary recalled: “It would never have occurred to me to have my portrait painted. Tony Banks, who was a Labour MP and a neighbour, was made chair of the Parliamentary Arts Commission, as it was called then.

“He said there was just far too many portraits of old white men in the House of Commons.

“And he thought that in centuries to come people would want to know what the first black woman elected to parliament looked like. He felt that I was an historic figure and I should definitely get a portrait done.”

Abbott continued: “The artist I chose had done some chocolate box pictures of the Queen Mother because I thought I’d have a nice chocolate box picture done.

“But Tony said, ‘No, you need a nice cutting edge picture done’, and he suggested the artist Stuart Pearson Wright. I had a long chat with Stuart and he painted me very much in his style. Women in particular tend to date especially because of their clothing. Men’s clothing is much more timeless. Obviously I was dressed when I was having the painting done but I didn’t want my clothes to show. I was just very privileged to have my portrait painted.”

Represent! Voices 100 Years On is free and open to the public at the People’s History Museum until February 3, 2019

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