Qona Wright, our Printed Books & Maps Collections Assistant, highlights a recent acquisition to our Artists’ Books Collection, the stunning Freedom Kangas by British artist Lubaina Himid.

In 2017, Professor Himid made history by being the oldest winner of the Turner Prize and the first woman of colour to receive the award. In 2019 she was awarded an Honorary Degree here at the University of Leeds. As Griselda Pollock stated at the ceremony, ‘An inspiring teacher, Lubaina Himid has used her practice to provoke us to think through the burdens of dark histories and resilience of cultural resistance.’

‘Freedom Kangas’ features a series of full colour images based on the design of a kanga, an East African form of dress worn in Himid’s country of birth, Tanzania, and throughout East Africa. Traditionally, kangas are formed from two pieces of rectangular fabric comprising a border surrounding a central design, often featuring a motto or message.

Artists' books 263 cover
Cover of ‘Freedom Kangas’ by Lubaina Himid. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Each of Himid’s images display her characteristic warm, vivid, colour palette and are embedded with a single motto inspired by the civil rights movement. Together, the plates form a deeply personal, affirmative interlocking narrative of diaspora, escape, hope, determination and shared experience.

Indeed, this sense of unity is referred to in Himid’s introduction where she cites her Tanzanian grandmother as an inspiration: ‘Every time she received an invitation a new outfit was necessary; a new kanga of course […] her eight or nine friends would all wear the same design so that they would make the best impression’.

Commissioned as part of ‘Beyond Words’ by Hull’s Freedom Festival Arts Trust in 2017, our copy is number four of thirty numbered limited editions signed by the author and one of over 280 works housed within our Artists’ Books Collection.

All are welcome to visit Special Collections to view material in our Research Centre. For more details about booking an appointment, see our Plan a visit  page or contact us by email at specialcollections@libraryleeds.ac.uk