Portrait Of History-Making MP Bernie Grant Is Unveiled In Parliament

A new portrait of one of Britain’s first black MPs has been unveiled in Parliament by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Bernie Grant was elected MP for Tottenham in 1987 and became one of three history-making Labour politicians in Westminster, alongside now-shadow home secretary Diane Abbott and Paul Boeteng, who later became the first mixed race cabinet minister. 

Artist Kelvin Okafor, who spent 180 hours painstakingly crafting the pencil and charcoal portrait now hanging in Portcullis House, said he studied reams of footage of Grant in order to properly capture his likeness.

“It was one of the most technically challenging drawings I’ve ever created, but also the most rewarding as I truly felt a deep connection with the subject,” he said.

“It was almost as though he were alive communicating with me whilst I drew him.”

Grant made his mark in the House of Commons immediately by wearing a traditional Ghanaian cotton robe at the State Opening of Parliament, and Okafor said the image became his key point of reference.

Kelvin Okafor's portrait of Bernie Grant

“It was a powerful statement which I felt represented pride, dignity and the inclusion of ethnic minorities in such institutions,” said the artist, who grew up in Tottenham.

Grant is remembered for being forthright in his criticism of discriminatory policing methods, immigration rules and institutionalised racism in health.

He was a strong advocate for housing, education and greater resources for inner city areas and became chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on race and community, as well as serving as a member of the international development select committee.

He also formed strong relationships with black communities and politicians all over the world, demanding recognition of Britain’s colonial past.

Tony Blair with David Lammy, who represents Tottenham today

After his death in 2000, then-prime minister Tony Blair described him as “an inspiration to black British communities everywhere”.

Current Tottenham MP David Lammy, who is also a member of the Speaker’s advisory committee on works of art, said: “Bernie Grant’s significant contribution to Parliament, notably his pioneering efforts towards equality and eradicating forms of discrimination, made him an obvious choice for representation in the Parliamentary art collection.

“We are delighted that the portrait will be on permanent public display in Portcullis House, alongside representations of other notable parliamentarians who knew him, including Diane Abbott and Paul Boateng.”

Grant’s widow Sharon, who was awarded an OBE in 2014 for service to the voluntary sector, said her husband was viewed as a controversial figure early in his Parliamentary career.

She added: “By the end of his life however, he was held in great respect, not only by his Tottenham constituents, and the wider black community, but nationally and internationally.

“The family is very proud that his contribution is increasingly recognised, and honoured that this superb portrait will now be included in the Parliamentary art collection.”