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New artwork at Gunnersbury celebrates the life and work of Ealing’s Eric and Jessica Huntley

An Ealing-based artist who was commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) is to have her collage portrait, ‘Eric and Jessica Huntley’, displayed at Gunnersbury Park Museum.  The work will then be transferred to the NPG when it reopens to the public in summer 2023.

The work was created by Sharon Walters who has a fine art degree from Central St Martins and was commissioned by NPG as a legacy to its Citizen UK: Ealing Rises Up project which took place in 2021.

Artist Sharon Walters said: “Creating a collage portrait featuring Eric and Jessica Huntley is a great honour. As a child I attended the Huntley’s Saturday school in Southall, and I have been inspired by them from a young age. Being asked to celebrate them and their immense contributions feels like an unimaginable legacy project where I am able to pay homage to them. For the piece to be commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery and acquired into their photographic collections is nothing short of a dream come true.”

Eric and Jessica Huntley were born in Guyana in the 1920s, Eric moved to the UK in 1957 and Jessica followed shortly afterwards in 1958. They were both politically active in Guyana and continued their activism in the UK, founding Bogle-L’Ouverture Publications in 1969 named in honour of liberation fighters in Caribbean history, Toussaint L’Ouverture and Paul Bogle. They first published Guyanese historian and scholar Walter Rodney’s text The Groundings With My Brothers, and went on to publish books by authors such as Linton Kwesi Johnson, Lemn Sissay and Valerie Bloom.

In 1975 they opened Bogle-L’Ouverture bookshop in Ealing, one of the first Black bookshops in the UK. It was later renamed Walter Rodney Bookshop following Rodney’s assassination in 1980. In 1982 Jessica established the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books, with joint director John La Rose. She also co-founded with Margaret Busby Greater Access to Publishing (GAP), a voluntary group campaigning for greater diversity within the mainstream publishing industry.

The Huntleys were passionate about equal education for Black children and set up supplementary schools supporting Ealing based children, including artist Sharon Walters.

Ms Walters added: “Showing the work at Gunnersbury Park Museum, the local history museum for Ealing initially is great as it will allow people to see the artwork prior to it heading to the newly restored home of NPG. Eric and Jessica deserve to be seen and appreciated. They have positively impacted the lives of so many, mine included, and will continue to do so for generations to come.”

Ellie Lewis-Nunes, heritage & communities manager at Gunnersbury said: “It is a huge honour for Gunnersbury to display this brand new piece featuring two of Ealing’s most significant residents – and created by one of Ealing’s most exciting artists. It’s fabulous that people will get to see this work locally before it travels to the National Portrait Gallery.”

Chief Executive of the Friends of the Huntley Archive at London Metropolitan Archives Beverley Mason said: “The installation breathes life and shines a light on the many achievements of these Black radical community activists, who led ordinary lives in service to others. Their long, devoted and committed partnership, made extraordinary differences to the lives of young people, Black, ethnically diverse and local communities, fearlessly fighting against injustice and racism from a pan-Africanist perspective, and whose influence in the independent publishing and booksellers sphere continues to reverberate on a national and international level.”

Emily Stone, inspiring people participation manager at the National Portrait Gallery said: “In recognition of their important contributions to community activism and education, we are delighted to have commissioned this new portrait of Eric and Jessica Huntley for the Gallery’s Collection. This portrait is an important addition to our national collection, and we look forward to its unveiling at Gunnersbury Park and Museum.”

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