The National Portrait Gallery has put on display a portrait of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo the first Black, Muslim emancipated slave. It will travel to Liverpool, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Leicester. This will be the first time the oil portrait painted by William Hoare of Bath in 1733, will have left London since it was loaned to the Gallery by the Orientalist Museum, member of the Qatar Museums Authority (QMA) in January 2011.
The portrait of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo is the earliest known British oil portrait of a freed slave, and the first portrait in Britain to honour an African subject as an individual and equal. Diallo was born into a devout Muslim family in 1711 in Africa. Whilst on a trading mission, he was captured and taken into slavery and then transported to America and sold to a plantation owner.
After a series of chance encounters, he found his way to England and on account of his literacy, faith and personal resilience in the face of adversity, Diallo was widely admired and introduced to high society. Many were impressed with his monotheistic beliefs and respected his discipline, reasoning, and ability to learn English quickly and supported him in translating Arabic scripts including the Quran.
In 1733 he was painted by the artist William Hoare of Bath, and specifically requested to be depicted in his traditional clothing, with a Quran written in his own hand, tied around his neck. The portrait, which had initially been thought to be lost, resurfaced some years ago and was purchased by the Qatar Museums Authority. It has been loaned to the National Portrait Gallery for a period of five years.
The International Slavery Museum in Liverpool will focus on Diallo’s personal story and experience of the transatlantic slave trade. The portrait will be displayed in the permanent collection, surrounded by other historical and contemporary stories of slavery. South Shields Museum will display the portrait in an exhibition of works focusing on faith and identity, given the town is home to one of the most established Muslim communities in Britain.
Leicester will explore displacement and identity connecting the portrait with the changing demographics of its local community and showing its links with its permanent collection. It is hoped the project will create an opportunity to develop a sustainable relationship with the Somali community. A poet will spend two days at each partner location to respond to the portrait and the related displays. This work will feed into the exhibition interpretation at the National Portrait Gallery when the portrait returns later in the year.
The Orientalist Museum and the QMA has supported a programme organised by the Gallery to include the British tour and the conservation of the painting, research and interpretation. As part of the programme, an intern from Qatar will spend time working at the National Portrait Gallery.
Sandy Nairne, Director, National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘We are delighted that this wonderful portrait will now be seen by visitors to Liverpool, South Shields and Leicester, showing Diallo as part of displays and community projects which explore issues of faith and identity, and the experience of those affected by the transatlantic slave trade.’
The tour will start at Liverpool’s International Slavery Museum (29 June – 23 September 2012 before moving to South Shields Museum and Art Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne (29 September 2012 – 9 March 2013) and finally to New Walk Museum and Art Gallery, Leicester (6 April – 30 June 2013).