Black, British and Proud

We’re celebrating this Black History Month with a selection of Black, British and Proud portraits and rhymes by our team.

Esther Bruce

  • Born on 29 November 1912 in Fulham, West London.
  • Esther and her father were among the few black members of their community. Her father taught her to be proud of who she is.
  • She left school when she was 14 years old to work in domestic service but after bad experiences, she changed careers and found work as a seamstress.
  • In the 1930s, she befriended two influential figures of the time: the Jamaican nationalist leader Marcus Garvey and the popular American singer Elisabeth Welch, for whom she also made dresses.
  • During the Second World War, she worked as a cleaner in Brompton Hospital and volunteered as a fire watcher.
  • After the war, she continued to work as a seamstress at Brompton Hospital, then for a curtain manufacturer in Fulham.  She retired in 1972, but continued working as a seamstress until her failing eyesight caused her to stop at the age of 74.
  • In 1991, Fulham and Hammersmith’s Ethnic Communities Oral History Project published her autobiography, Aunt Esther’s Story. Co-authored with her adopted nephew. It was the first book to document the life of a black working-class woman in Britain and received – various accolades were received.
  • Bruce died at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital on 17 July 1994.

Sonia Boyce

  • British artist, living and working in London.
  • Born in Islington, London, in 1962
  • Professor of Black Art and Design at University of the Arts London.
  • In 1989, she was a part of a group of four female artists who created an exhibition called “The Other Story,” , which was the first display of British African, Caribbean, and Asian Modernism.
  • Her themes are based on experiences of a black woman living in a white society, and how religion, politics and sexual politics made up that experience.
  • Awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2007, for services to art.
  • On 9 March 2016, Boyce was elected as a member of the Royal Academy.
  • In February 2020 Boyce was selected by the British Council to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale 2022. She will be the first black woman to do so.

Khadija Saye

  • Also known as Ya-Haddy Sisi Saye, was a Gambian-British photographer.
  • Born in London  in 1992
  • At age 16 she won a scholarship to Rugby School in Rugby, England.
  • Obtained a photography degree from the University for the Creative Arts at Farnham
  • Her photography explored her Gambian-British identity. Her series of photographs entitled Dwellings: in this Space we Breathe, was exhibited in the Diaspora Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale in 2017.
  • Saye took part in a BBC TV documentary, Venice Biennale: Sink or Swim that was broadcast in 2017.
  • Saye was a passionate activist and educator, she volunteered at Jawaab to educate and empower young Muslims.
  • Both Saye and her mother died in the Grenfell Tower fire, in North Kensington on 14 June 2017.
  • Following her death, Tate Britain announced that it would exhibit a silkscreen of one of the pieces from the Dwellings series.
  • In 2018 her work was part of the reopening show of Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge and works were auctioned at Christie’s as part of the Post-War and Contemporary Day Auction.
  • In 2019, the London Transport Museum launched a photography fellowship program in Saye’s name.
  • In July 2020 Khadija Saye Arts was launched.  The programme addresses the issue of BAME inclusivity in the creative industries by focusing directly on the barriers that exist to young people from disadvantaged communities.

Olaudah Equiano

  • Enslaved as a child in West Africa, where he was taken to the Caribbean and sold
  • In total he was sold 3 times before purchasing his freedom in 1766.
  • He lived in London as a freedman he was part of an abolitionist group of African people living in Britain
  • His wrote his autobiography in 1789 , which went through multiple editions and explained the horrors of slavery .
  • His autobiography helped gain passage of the British Slave Trade Act 1807.


Bryan Siblings

  • Kerrine was born in 1981 and Jason was born in 1988. 
  • Both born in Birmingham, UK.
  • Their grandparents arrived in the UK from Jamaica in the 1950’s as part of the Windrush Generation.
  • The siblings worked together to found Butterfly Books in 2015, publishing children’s picture books with the aim of busting stereotypes and misconceptions about various professions.
  • They continue to work on their mission of addressing gender and other bias’ in professions.