Annis Harrison (b. 1967), is a Swedish-Jamaican multimedia artist and educator based in London. Reflecting upon Harrison’s experience in education, I Can’t See Myself focuses on her students’ response to the lack of representation whilst visiting museums and galleries across London. On 5th September, Harrison led a protest, Black Art Matters, outside the National Gallery in London, which aimed to denounce the lack of Black and POC representation in public collections. Harrison’s research surmised that only 5 paintings by Black subjects were on display, while around 2,000 works by Black and POC artists were kept in the archives of national institutions and were not available for viewing. Public speakers at the protest included Patrick Vernon OBE, founder of the “100 Great Black Britons” campaign, poet Rakaya Fetuga and Bolanle Tajudeen, curator in residence at V.O, educator and founder of the Black Blossoms School of Art.
Recalling the seminal 1989 exhibition The Other Story at Hayward Gallery, London, Harrison pinpoints a moment of change in the artworld. Curated by Rasheed Araeen, the show celebrated the contributions of Afro-Asian and Caribbean artists in post-war Britain. Harrison refers to this moment and questions the contemporary absence of change within national organisations. Engaging in discourses of diversity and cultural duality, Harrison reflects upon the concepts of ‘Britishness’ and ‘Englishness’ within the larger framework of representation in cultural institutions such as the National Portrait Gallery.
I Can’t See Myself is the result of a collaborative project with youth figures; 17 portraits that represent the diversity of children of mixed heritage from London. Staring defiantly at the viewer and framed in gold, they become main protagonists, a straightforward deviation and critique of classical depictions of Black/POC individuals in the European art canon, who are often displayed in submissive poses, eyes averted. Alongside the portraits are photographs taken during the Black Art Matters protest, accompanied by the placards held by protestors during the event, as a documentation of this reaction to the marginalisation of Black and POC art in national institutions. The project and protest convey the need for a radical change within institutions.