Claudette Johnson, Untitled (Standing Woman) (1990)

Wolverhampton Art Gallery

 Charcoal drawing of a nude woman of colour sitting upright, contraposto

Fig.1 Claudette Johnson, ‘Untitled (Standing Woman) (1990). © Claudette Johnson. Image Courtsey of Wolverhampton Art Gallery. Purchased with assistance from the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Friends of Wolverhampton Art Galleries. 

Johnson is commonly associated with the BLK Art Group - a group of young black artists formed in Wolverhampton in 1979 who challenged ideas about what black art was. Johnson’s art work aims to challenge perceptions about black art and identity, and undermine the negative historical portrayal of black people in art and culture.

This drawing in the Wolverhampton collection is an open and honest portrait of a black woman, typical of Johnson’s oeuvre. A larger-than-life woman dominates the space and looks out to the viewer with an ambiguous gaze. The subject has a firm presence and is given a platform that affords her some control over her own representation. She appears to be standing her ground and unconcerned by the viewers' intrusion. She is not necessarily depicted to be weak or strong - she just is.

Through her portraiture, Johnson is keenly interested in giving to black women a presence which they have historically been denied, and that is evident in this portrait. Her work resists traditional depictions of black femininity. She creates a new space for black women to exist in art history.