Legacies: Commemorating the bicentenary of British abolition

William Hogarth and Godfried Donkor

An extract from the Trade and Empire exhibition at The Whitworth Art Gallery 2007

William Hogarth often made strategic use of black characters in his work to satirise and comment on the morals of mid eighteenth century British society, using the black characters to laugh at the upper classes, thus reversing conventional roles and perceptions. The black figures are shown as natural in juxtaposition to the artificiality of the whites satirised. Hogarth’s use of black characters reflects a growing black population during his lifetime, especially in London, and as servants to the aristocracy throughout the country, so that by the end of the century there were around 20,000 black people in Britain. This black presence has often been omitted in popular British historical accounts, which have traditionally dated the arrival of a significant black population to the Windrush generation that settled after the Second World War.

The Ghanaian born, Brixton based artist, Godfried Donkor is fascinated by this earlier presence and uses collage techniques to insert an African presence where it has been elided and foreground it where it has been sidelined. In the Trade and Empire exhibition, our juxtaposition of Donkor’s work with his hero Hogarth, shows how Donkor also strategically inserts black figures which pose questions regarding national identity and multicultural lifestyles of relevance to both Hogarth’s time and his own.