October is Black History Month here in the UK. To celebrate the occasion, artist N. Ronke will be sharing works - new and old - each week. N. Ronke is a Narrative Printmaker and Digital artist whose work predominantly focuses on Horror and Folklore. 

N. Ronke was a featured artist in our 2020 Tate Exchange. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the event itself was cancelled, so we are thrilled to be able to work with N. Ronke again on this new commission. 

Throughout October, we will be sharing work chosen by N. Ronke relating to the theme of Black History. They will take us on a tour of overlooked and oft-forgotten figures from British Black history through intricate and dynamic new lino prints and their own thorough research.

Week One - Missing Panels Comic
Week Two - Cattelena of Almondsbury
Week Three - Fanny Eaton
Week Four - William Cuffay
Week Five - Mary Prince

Week One

To kick things off this week, though, we're looking back to N. Ronke's 2018 work, 'White People Problems,' from the comic 'Missing Panels,' which examines how a lack of representation contributes to the invisibility of needs, concerns, and mental health in BAME communities. Missing Panels was commissioned by Esther De Dauw and Leicester University.

By combining academic research and comics, the project aimed to bridge the divide between academia and the artist community and raise awareness about the underrepresentation of BAME communities.

This project explores the intertwined relationship between the British health care system and N. Ronke’s father, a doctor, and his view of mental health as a Nigerian man.

A downloadable version of the image descriptions is available at the bottom of this page.

White People Problems, from Missing Panels (2018)

An excerpt from a graphic novel. This is the first of four pages. The layout is that of a comic book. The style of the images is graphic, but as they were created through lino printing, there is texture to the shades, most of which are black, white, and brown.  The page is titled “White People Problems.” A young Black person with short, tight curls and round glasses is sat next to a middle-aged Black man in the car. The man is illustrated with white skin because he is depicted in inverse print. Text on the box reads, “I still remember the day I told my dad I had depression.” The expression on the young person’s face is one of anger and frustration.   The next box shows the profile of their face, with lips parted next to a speech bubble which reads: “Dad, I have something to tell you…”  The next three boxes are tied together in a fragmented layout. Each focus in on a different section of the father’s face, with key features depicted in brown while other parts of his face are left in white, as before. It is clear from the expression shown that he is suspicious, affronted.  The last box on this page shows a close up of the young person’s face, a tear rolling from their eye behind their round glasses. Next to their face are the words “Black people do not get depression.”

An excerpt from a graphic novel. This is the second of four pages. The layout is that of a comic book. The style of the images is graphic, but as they were created through lino printing, there is texture to the shades, most of which are black, white, and brown.  The first box shows the father behind the wheel of a car, gripping it firmly with his hand and scowling intensely behind sunglasses. His skin is brown, not white as in the previous box. The text reads: “My dad is a doctor. My dad is from Nigeria.”  Next is an illustration of multiple Nigerian women carrying items on their heads, one carrying a baby on her side. In the background, there is a building in the doorway of which sits a figure. This figure is leaning on the doorframe with their leg extended and is the only figure in this box illustrated in brown, the others remain in black and white. The text reads: “A recent study shows a third of Nigerians believe that mental illness is a lack of self-discipline and will power.”  In the final box, three young Black people stand in a row, their heads bowed and their eyes closed, clearly unhappy. Behind them, with their backs to them, stand three more people. The three in the foreground are illustrated with brown skin, whereas the figures turned away are black and white. The text reads: “That is exactly what my father believes; what most West African immigrant parents believe.”

An excerpt from a graphic novel. This is the third of four pages. The layout is that of a comic book. The style of the images is graphic, but as they were created through lino printing, there is texture to the shades, most of which are black, white, and brown.  There are three rectangular boxes on this page of the comic, stacked one atop another. In the top box, the narrator, who disclosed their depression earlier on, is belted into a car seat, looking solemnly forward. The text reads: “And to be honest nothing I experienced while suffering untreated had told me otherwise.”  The second box shows the narrator discussing their feelings with a therapist figure, who is smiling and illustrated in black and white. The narrator has speech bubbles emerging from their mouth, filled with images. One of a brain, the other – on top – of a figure who is shown as half black and half white. The text reads: “CAMHS treated my mental health issues as an identity crisis.”  In the last box are two men, both staring out at the viewer through lowered brows and clear discontent. The figure in the foreground is illustrated as white and black whereas behind them, the narrator’s father, is illustrated with brown skin. Both figures wear white coats and have stethoscopes around their necks. The text reads: “My father’s shadow reflected in my GP’s look of scepticism as he refused to diagnose me. Saying I was looking for labels to excuse my behaviour.”

An excerpt from a graphic novel. This is the last of four pages. The layout is that of a comic book. The style of the images is graphic, but as they were created through lino printing, there is texture to the shades, most of which are black, white, and brown.  In the first box, the narrator is falling rapidly in empty, dark space. Their arms are reaching out beneath them as if to seek a landing. The text reads: “It becomes easy to see how many Black people fell in the cracks.”  In the next box, the narrator and their father face off. The narrator is in the foreground, looking at their dad’s angry face, which is now illustrated in white and black. The text reads: “When you’re told to keep quite by your family.”  Continuing, the narrator now looks on at their GP, who has a similar scowl on their face and is illustrated in white and black. The text reads: “And dismissed by the doctors.”  The final box of the comic shows many figures, illustrated in black and white, in a crowd. Some are wearing scarves, some hats. There are only three or four clear faces, all of which are looking down at the ground and appear sullen. The text reads: “You feel like such an outlier; you often wonder if others felt the same way.”

You can read a Microsoft Word version of the image descriptions here.

Week Two

This week, N. Ronke introduces us to Cattelena of Almondsbury ( - 1625). 

Cattelena is one of the earliest documented ‘independent’ Black women living in England. Although her life wasn’t atypical of a single woman of the time in rural England, the significance of Cattelena being a Black woman living not in bondage but as a free human in the late sixteenth century – until her death in 1625 – should not be understated.

As written in her probate, her most valuable possession was her cow, which was not uncommon for the time as it allowed her to make, sell, and live off the milk and butter produced by the cow. Cattelena’s existence shows us that Black people have always been interwoven into the history of Britain as free and independent people *before* the establishment of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.

A lino print of a 16th century Black woman dressed in clothes of the time; her white collar tight around her neck and her bonnet covering her hair. Behind the woman is a black and white cow, peering over her shoulder. The wall behind them is wooden, evident from the texture of the wood recreated in print.

Week Three

We're halfway through October, but N. Ronke still has a few more works to share with us. This week, we're looking at Fanny Eaton!

Fanny Eaton has commonly been referred to as the forgotten beauty of the Pre-Raphaelite era. A Jamaican-born Black woman who was lorded for her beauty by world-renowned artists in the middle of an era that pushed the idea of white supremacy in beauty via colonisation. 

Fanny was not just a model who challenged 19th century perspectives of race and beauty in art, she was also a working-class mother of ten who was born only a year after emancipation and died in the early 20th century.

Her struggles have been romanticised with paint, leaving us with the faded impression of the life of a working-class Black woman whose life was likely more impacted by her station than her race.

The illustration shows a light-skinned Black woman in profile. She wears a black shawl with white horizontal stripes, draped across her shoulders and meeting in the middle, on her chest. Around her neck is a chain of dark pearl-like beads. Her wavy hair extends into a stylish triangular shape, thicker and more voluminous the further it gets from the root. She wears red lipstick and has a somewhat despairing emotion on her face. Half of her hair is coloured black while the rest is uncoloured. Behind her head are two other, less focused sketches of the woman. In black and white, the two heads look out from behind her, one left and one right.

Week Four

This week, N. Ronke is looking back to William Cuffay for their Black History Month commission. 

William Cuffay was a tailor who became a prominent leader of the Chartist movement, the first mass political movement of the British working class. He was the son of a former slave, looking towards the betterment of the working man, and knew the importance of representation in Parliament. 

His dedication to those around him led him to become one of three London delegates at the National Chartist Convention in 1848. After being arrested in the summer of the same year for ‘conspiracy to levy war’ against Queen and country, he was sentenced to 21 years in Tasmania, where he continued to fight for the working man’s rights up until his death at 87 years old. 

William Cuffay is a figure of class solidarity in spite of race, dedicated to raising the quality of work and life in a time when poverty was expected to be dealt with without question.Lino print artwork. A tall Black man wearing a double-breasted black coat on top of a white collared shirt and thin tie looks straight forward. He has short hair and a beard. Behind him are the outlines of many protestors, holding up signs, depicted in abstract lines.

Week Five

It's the final week of October, which means it’s also the final week of #BlackHistoryMonth and our collaboration with N.Ronke. Luckily, we have got one more work to share with you before we look back on the month as a whole…

This week, N.Ronke introduces us to Mary Prince. Mary Prince dictated one of the first accounts of what it was like to experience slavery from the point of view of a slave. Her account tells the story of her life from childhood as a slave in Bermuda where she was sold at the market along with her sisters, aged just twelve years old, to the constant brutality she faced at the hands of so many different masters, all the way to her escape when she was brought to England with her latest enslavers, the Wood family.

Her depiction of the life of a Black female slave was so graphic and horrific that many didn’t believe the stories to be real. It was only after testimonies from multiple white women of high standing – who bore witness to the scars on Prince’s body – that she was believed by most British abolitionists. 

However, for all her spirit and bravery in escaping and talking of her enslavement, Prince was still at the mercy of a people who, at best, thought of her as lesser. She is one of the base rungs in our climb to racial equality who may not be seen to be as significant as other Black historical figures but was just as impactful in the fight for equality.

Lino print. The print depicts a Black woman wearing a headscarf, shawl, long sleeved shirt and skirt reading from a double-page manuscript. Her skin is brown, but the rest of the print is in black and white. Behind her, in the background, there are chains hanging from above which, in combination with the sullen look on the woman’s face, create a dark and oppressive atmosphere.