It is in this context that Himid is now getting exposure. But if things have improved considerably for black artists since 1982, there is still much work to be done. “It’s that real in-depth discussion of what those artists are trying to do that isn’t quite there yet,” Himid said. “We’re dealing with complex ideas and complex ways of making things, filling gaps in histories, continuing political arguments which are hard to think about as the world shifts and changes around you—those are the sort of conversations we want to engage with.”
Himid views discourse as central to her work. Her artmaking begins with conversations—with colleagues, academics, and in particular, economic historians. She often paints figural and metaphorical spaces for discussion. In works such as Plan B, Everybody Is (1999/2000) and Pool Series, Yellow (2000), for instance, which hang side by side at Modern Art Oxford, chairs face the viewer, inviting you to pull up a seat at the table. In other paintings, she depicts discussions taking place, as in Le Rodeur: Exchange (2016) or in the exchanges Himid has imagined between British cotton mill laborers in Lancashire and African-American slaves across the Atlantic in Cotton.com (2002).
Where no conversations exist, Himid creates them. In an incredibly painful work from her “Negative Positives” series (2007–2017), for example, she forces the subliminal racism of British newspapers into plain view. In Naming the Money (2004)—a large-scale installation composed of her signature “cutouts”—she invents the identities of 100 servants who were sent to Europe from Africa in the 17th century.