Brent ‘icons’ Raheem Sterling, Zadie Smith and Riz Ahmed to star in new art show

Portraits of Raheem Sterling, Zadie Smith and Riz Ahmed are to go on display as part of an exhibition to celebrate the stories of “inspirational people of colour” connected to the London borough of Brent.

The exhibition, named Icons of Colour, has been commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery.

The gallery described the display as a “significant step” in its efforts to “increase the representation of women and black sitters and artists” in its collection.

England and Manchester City footballer Sterling, who grew up in Brent, has been hailed as “an inspiration for not only [the] community but across the country”, while actor Ahmed has hailed his hometown as “an incredible borough bursting with energy, talent and creativity”.

Smith was born in Brent and has set much of her writing in the borough’s Willesden area. The author became a household name with the 2000 publication of her first novel White Teeth, which picked up a host of awards including the Whitbread First Novel Award.

She said it was an “honour” to sit for the new full-length portrait, named “Sadie”, by the US-based Nigerian artist Toyin Ojih Odutola.

The artist said she chose this title to signify the foundations of Smith’s life, as a woman from north-west London with roots in both Jamaica and England

“It’s a remarkable experience to be drawn by an artist as brilliant as Toyin Ojih Odutola,” Smith said.

“I can’t say it was a collaboration – I just sat there – but it was an honour. She put Willesden behind me and palm fronds around me so I feel very at home. And she gave me better shoes than I own, for which I am grateful.”

Earlier this year Zaffar Van Kalwala, organiser of the annual Brent Super Cup, a football tournament for young people in the area, led calls for Sterling to be awarded the Freedom of Brent.

He said of the Euro 2020 star: “Raheem Sterling should definitely be given the Freedom of the Borough in Brent. He has been such an inspiration for not only our community but across the country.

“He has done great work in standing-up against discrimination and racism in our society.

“And he has undoubtedly been England’s best player of the tournament. We should be all proud of our ‘boy from Brent’.”

Ahmed, who has appeared in films including Rogue One and Sound of Metal – which earned him an Oscar nomination – lent his voice to the successful campaign for Brent to be named London Borough of Culture 2020.

Backing the bid in 2017 he said: “Brent is an incredible borough bursting with energy, talent and creativity.

“Much of that is down to the influences of different communities and cultures that have come from all over the world to make my home borough the unique place that it is today.”

The exhibition will go on display at the Brent Museum and Archives on Thursday and will be available to view until the end of February.


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