Lubaina Himid Freedom and Change, 1984

Lubaina Himid Freedom and Change, 1984. Installation view as part of the exhibition Invisible Strategies, Modern Art Oxford, 2017

© Modern Art Oxford. Photo: Ben Westoby, courtesy the artist and Hollybush Gardens

Two Black women with cropped hair dressed in patterned dresses are running. One holds the hand of another aloft, who in turn holds the reins of a pack of snarling dogs. Where are they going, and why? Lubaina Himid’s piece called Freedom and Change made in 1984, and created in response to Picasso’s Two Women Running on the Beach (The Race) 1922, ‘precedes the drama and romance of running away’ she says, ‘without depicting the reality of running away or the consciousness of a sudden departure on those left behind.’

Over the last 30 years, Himid’s works have often featured women together, presented in close pairs, quietly involved in interactions that the artist has described as both complex and ordinary. Himid was born in Zanzibar, Tanzania in 1954 and moved to London with her mother, a textile designer, when she was just four months old. She studied Theatre Design at Wimbledon College of the Arts in the mid-1970s (followed by an MA in Cultural History at the Royal College of Art). She has said: ‘I am constantly exploring the notion that textile design could be a secret and yet visible language between women.’

Himid’s paintings often respond to omissions in Western art history, in which she explains, ‘there was only one story and…the black woman never spoke.’ She has said; ‘When depicting women together in paintings, you automatically, whatever you do, expose them to the history of the male gaze. So in order to give them agency you need to ask them to stare out together towards that gaze in a very direct way.’

Freedom and Change and other works by Himid feature in a display curated by Laura Castagnini at Tate Britain.