Commissioned for the festival, the exhibition is part of an ongoing project by Williams which he hopes will eventually lead to a collection of 1,000 portraits of Black Britons.
Through Portrait of Black Britain, he hopes to both amplify the contributions made by Black people living in the UK and make them more visible, plus also give the next generation and wider society a holistic picture of Black achievements in the UK in the 21st century.
The portraits are displayed throughout the Arndale – in both prominent settings but also subtly weaved among the signage and advertising on show in the shopping centre. This is not the first time Williams has used public spaces to share his work and his messages: he has previously created 56 Black Men, which examined racial stereotypes in the media, and Let’s Not Forget, a project honouring George Floyd and other victims of police brutality. Both of these works were displayed on advertising billboards around the UK.
“I will be asking a very important question to the world and leaving a very rich and diverse answer for generations to come, that is, ‘What does it actually mean to be Black?’,” he says of his new project. “This is me taking control of my narrative and asking other Black people to join me in the re-introduction of our presence and stories in the 21st century.”