My favourite painting: Maria Balshaw

Tate Director Maria Balshaw picks a powerful work by Lubaina Himid, whose major solo exhibition will open at Tate Modern in November.

Maria Balshaw on her choice of Between the Two my Heart is Balanced

Currently at Tate St Ives, this is a powerful expression of black female creativity. Two women command the foreground, their ocean journey taking them to a destination we don’t know. The bars of colour between them, the artist says, are maps the women have rejected and torn; the painting suggests the women are re-navigating histories and geographies from a female perspective. This alternative exploration of the movement of peoples suggests an open and empowering future—a message that resonates with me.

Maria Balshaw is the director of the Tate

John McEwen comments on Between the Two my Heart is Balanced

Lubaina Himid emerged in the 1980s, when she organised and participated in exhibitions as one of the pioneers of the British Black Arts Movement.

It was in 1982 at the first National Black Art Convention that she urged her audience, including the young Sonia Boyce—now Britain’s representative at the next Venice Biennale—to make ‘positive images’ of themselves.

Prof Himid was born in Zanzibar. She was an infant when her father died and her mother, a textile designer, brought her up in England. She studied theatre design at Wimbledon Art College and graduated with a master’s degree in Cultural History from the Royal College of Art. Her first solo exhibition was held at the Pentonville Gallery, London, in 1986.

This painting derives from a James Tissot (1836–1902) etching of the same title, Entre les Deux mon Coeur Balance, in which a kilted soldier sits in a small boat between two women. Grander vessels beyond suggest his recent arrival.

Prof Himid’s women wear African dress and are at sea, implying forced migration. The soldier’s space is filled with stripes representing discarded maps: the brightly dressed woman holds one; both women release blue fragments into the sea.

Prof Himid has described the painting as ‘musing on what would happen if black women got together and started to destroy maps and charts— to undo what has been done’.

Prof Himid won the 2017 Turner Prize. A professor of Contemporary Art at the University of Central Lancaster, she was promoted CBE in 2018, from MBE.


My Favourite Painting: Lola Young

Baroness Lola Young chooses a picture by Sonia Boyce thats' 'about the invisibility of black women who neither had a