‘When you see yourself on a building, you can see yourself in it’: Stars celebrate return of Peckham Portraits

Katherine Johnston (16 October, 2019) Culture

The project aimed to challenge the perceived lack of positive black role models, often described as a contributory factor to knife crime and youth violence

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The iconic ‘Peckham Portraits’ of black British, African and Caribbean actors returned to their original home this week as they were reinstalled outside Mountview Academy during Black History Month.

The portraits, which had been on display for a decade in Peckham Hill Street from 2008 before being removed during Mountview’s construction, are now back after being unveiled on Tuesday, October 15.

Patrice Naiambana Don Gilet, Martina Laird, Dona Kroll, Hon Harriet Harman, Adjoa Andoh, Fraser James & Franklyn Rodgers

One of the UK’s longest-running public art installations, the pictures pay homage to Peckham and the country’s incredible acting talent from black British and African and Caribbean backgrounds.

Idris Elba, Adjoa Andoh, Kwame Kwei-Armah, David Oyelowo, Diane Parish, Colin Salmon and Rudolph Walker are all captured by artists Franklyn Rodgers, and are pictured with their own inspirational quotes.

Conceived by actor Fraser James and his foundation, Underexposed Arts, the project aimed to challenge the perceived lack of positive black role models, often described as a contributory factor to knife crime and youth violence.

James said that while visiting Peckham last year, one resident who grew up in the area told him walking past the portraits every day on the way to school “made me walk tall’.

“That conversation was an emotional moment for me. It opened my eyes to the impact of what we did in 2008,” James says.

“It was that moment that inspired me to reassemble the individuals and organisations behind the original works.”

He explained: “Reinstating the Peckham Portraits will be an electrifying moment. It’s our way of saying thank you and thank you to the community that cherished them for so many years.

“We also hope of course that it will inspire the next generation. When you see yourself on a building, you can see yourself in it.”

In the last ten years Peckham has gone through many changes – including on-going regeneration – and a new generation of actors have graced the small and silver screen, including John Boyega and Damson Idris.

“The reinstatement of the Portraits to their original home in Peckham is, we believe, another positive step in underlining the wealth of talent across the British black community,” says James.

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