An Extended Look At Bernie Grant: The First Black MP To Have a Portrait in Parliament

Kelvin Okafor’s portrait of Bernie Grant, was unveiled at a private event in portcullis house on the 5th December, where the family and friends of the artist and of the late Tottenham MP united to celebrate the excellence of Okafor’s carefully sketched work. Guyana-born Grant, who died of a heart attack in 2000, was commended by many in the black community, for his passion and determination to end racial inequality and to challenge discrimination.

Wife of the late Tottenham MP, Sharon Grant, was among the guests at the event, she applauded Okafor’s work, saying “I think it’s stunning, it’s hard to believe that it’s not a photograph, it has an unbelievable likeness and an intimacy that I just can’t get over.”

2017 marked 30 years since the election of the first ever black and minority ethnic MP’s: Diane Abbott, Paul Boateng, Keith Vaz and the late Tottenham MP Bernie Grant, later referred to as “the famous four” by colleague and shadow home secretary Diane Abbott.

In celebration of Bernie Grants’ time in politics, artist Kelvin Okafor channelled his creative talent into a delicate, photo-like drawing of the late politician, that was commissioned by the speaker’s advisory committee on works of art, mid 2017.

Successor of Bernie Grant, David Lammy, was also among the attendees, mentioning the importance of his constituent, Kelvin Okafor’s artwork. “It is wonderful that we finally have a portrait of Bernie Grant, here in parliament.”

Bernie Grant was described by co-worker Diane Abbott as a “Lion”, many said he was an outspoken member of parliament, often rebelling against the norms of an MP. Bernie Grant famously defied the conventions of his parliamentarian counterparts by wearing African attire, and when interviewed shortly before his death, he told the BBC he would like to be remembered as an “African Rebel”.

Okafor captured this authentic side to Bernie Grant within his portrait, drawn over 180 painstaking hours, picturing him in traditional African dress; which, when revealed to the family, friends and past colleagues of Grant, filled the room with smiles, as they were thrilled the artist had captured the proud African side to his personality.

Tottenham resident, Okafor’s style of art-hyper-realism, focuses on creating life-like portraits, which he stated are “easier when I can get to know the person I am drawing”.

Although Kelvin made it clear that he hadn’t met Bernie Grant, he said, “I did a lot of research on Bernie, and although it was a technically challenging piece to draw, I found a deep connection with him. When I was drawing, it was like he was alive and communicating with me.”

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Leader of the labour party, Jeremy Corbyn unveiled the portrait, describing Grant as having a “global vision to unite people in Tottenham and elsewhere”, which Okafor, as a Tottenham resident agreed was part of his inspiration to draw what he described as a “legend” to his community.

Tottenham MP David Lammy spoke of how he had supported the work of his constituent Okafor and applauded him for being the first black artist to have his work erected in parliament. Lammy marked the event as a “milestone” and highlighted how important it is to support the work of BAME people across Britain. Lammy spoke about the multiculturalism and diversity in his speech at the event, he said to make a diverse society work, “we have to remember the inheritance and real effort of Bernie to make this country fair and equal on behalf of Britain’s ethnic minority populations.”

The portrait of Bernie Grant is now on display in Portcullis house, Westminster.