Breaking Barriers

21 December 2020

Breaking Barriers (2019)

We look to leaders for inspiration, guidance and comfort. Portrayed as pillars of strength, the intricacies of their journeys as well as the various obstacles overcome by those in leadership roles are often glossed over. Stories of Leadership II: Breaking Barriers is a portrait commission by award-winning photographer Joy Gregory that aims to make visible the journeys of pioneering Black British women who have taken their rightful seat at the table. Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE, Dame Linda Dobbs DBE, Baroness Doreen Lawrence OBE, and Dr Shirley Thompson OBE have shared their personal experience not only to showcase the excellence present in Britain’s Black communities but to show others what can be achieved.

Drawing inspiration from the 16th and 17th century portraits of aristocrats that hang in our national collections, the body language of the portraits allude to the inner strength that each woman has summoned throughout various points along her life’s path. Gregory’s decision to photograph the women in colour was inspired by the rich hues of the oil paints that were historically used to paint people in positions of power.

As Black Cultural Archives is the home of Black British history each woman was asked to record an oral history interview. The captions underneath the portraits are direct quotes taken from these interviews.

Although each woman’s journey to leadership has been unique, they have all encountered similar barriers at formative points in their lives. Barriers which they had the courage, determination and self-belief to not only question but break down. Whatever individual skills and methods they employed to achieve this collectively they have agreed on one thing – If they can do it anyone can.