Portrait of Black Britain is a project to create the largest collection of photographic portraits of Black people living in the UK. It is a celebration of the beauty in identity and diversity, highlighting that Black people are not a monolith and amplifying the achievements of the Black community within the British landscape.
This is the second instalment of Portrait of Black Britain, supported by Landsec and on display to members of the public at Bluewater from Monday 1 November until Sunday 14 November 2021. The portraits feature 220 individuals including members of the local community; Williams’ goal is to grow this collection to 1,000, with future exhibitions in locations across the UK.
Landsec’s support of the exhibition demonstrates a commitment to being an active ally and making their spaces more inclusive and welcoming for everyone. Landsec’s involvement in this project follows a recent incident at Bluewater, where Williams was accused of theft by House of Fraser’s security team.
Portrait of Black Britain is one strand of the Black British Network, an alliance set up in 2020 and made up of business leaders, their organisations and the Black community. The focus of the network, founded by Williams, is to work together to dismantle systemic racism and improve the economic prospects of Black people living in the UK. Founding members include Salesforce, Dechert, EY, Sainsburys, Clear Channel and Alfa, whose employees feature in the Bluewater exhibition.
Williams is a campaigner, photographer and speaker committed to centralising Black representation and uniting communities and organisations to deliver long lasting change.
Cephas Williams, creator of Portrait of Black Britain, said:
“Mark Allan and I met shortly after the incident, and after speaking with him, I believe the commitment to driving significant change alongside myself is meaningful and not insubstantial. When I sat down with Mark, I saw someone who was willing to listen, learn and really commit to the work, accountability and action needed to dismantle systemic racism. Launching Portrait of Black Britain at Bluewater is just the start of this relationship and I’m keen to explore and deliver on other aspects of our joint aspirations for societal reform. Mark and I may not share the same lived experience, however we have a shared understanding and passion for the change we need to see in this area and as such have become peers of the cause.”
Mark Allan, CEO, Landsec, said:
“As a business we place great importance on inclusivity, enabling our people to bring their true, authentic self to work each day and reflecting the diversity of our customers and guests in the spaces we operate. Working with Cephas and his team has given us the opportunity to listen, learn and importantly take action. Portrait of Black Britain is a celebration of individual lives, to have this second instalment launching at Bluewater is testament to the commitment of our internal teams and the relationships we are building to help drive change.”
Williams launched 56 Black Men in the UK in 2018, a campaign focused on changing the narrative of Black men in the media as an introduction to a much wider conversation. Since launch, the campaign has had both a local and global impact.
Williams launched the first phase of his photographic series, Portrait of Black Britain, at the Manchester International Festival in July 2021. The series focused on centralising Black-led representation, giving the spotlight to the community to which this conversation belongs.
Williams selected Bluewater shopping centre as the second location for the exhibition following an incident at the centre where he was accused of theft by House of Fraser’s security team. After the incident, Williams met with Mark Allan, CEO of Landsec, to establish how they could work together to take meaningful action to dismantle systemic racism.
Prior to this, Williams had already been successful in galvanising support for his businesses from key partners and senior contacts including companies such as Tesco, Unilever, The Co-op Group, Accenture and Publicis Group, and individuals such as Paul Polman (Ex Global CEO of Unilever), Simon Pegg and others.
At this time Williams is looking to drive momentum towards a collective conversation through The Black British Network. In his public letter to his son titled ‘Letter to Zion’, Cephas explores a heartfelt message and his thoughts around the much needed change we need to see in the world, with specific reference to the Black community and the need for us to come together as a society to achieve long lasting change. The letter was published on 9 October 2020.