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New artwork by Che Lovelace commemorates Cugoano, a prominent abolitionist but largely forgotten figure in Black British history.

To mark the anniversary of the baptism of Quobna Ottobah Cugoano at St James’s in 1773, Trinidad-based artist Che Lovelace’s new paintings will be unveiled in the entrance of the church in late September. Seen by all visitors to St James’s this is the first permanent artwork to commemorate Cugoano’s life anywhere in the world.

Che Lovelace paints the intersecting lives of the people, flora and fauna of his native Trinidad. Infused with rich colours and bold shapes, his art straddles the boundary between magical realism, abstraction and the beauty of the natural world. The paintings, The River, Passage, Spirit and The Vision of the Birds (right to left above) have been installed in St James’s entrance where all visitors to the church can see them.

Quobna Ottobah Cugoano described his personal experience of being trafficked at the age of 13 to work on a plantation in Grenada and bought by a merchant to England where he gained his freedom in 1772, in his book Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil of Slavery published in 1787. His baptism, in 1773, was an act which promised his ongoing freedom; however he didn’t live long enough to see slavery abolished by the UK Parliament. With his exact dates of birth and death unknown, Cugoano’s baptism on 20 August 1773 at St James’s is the only place and date that is clearly and verifiably part of his story.

Lovelace was selected by a process led by curator Ekow Eshun and involving members of the church’s congregation and clergy. The commission is supported by generous donations from international lawyer and philanthropist Dr Tai-Heng Cheng and his husband, gallerist Mr Cole Harrell, both American Friends of St James’s Piccadilly. The commission is part of St James’s cultural programme overseen by Creative Director Richard Parry, previously Director, Glasgow International.

Che Lovelace, born in Port of Spain, Trinidad in 1969, joins St James’s history of connection with artists and creatives. Considered amongst Sir Christopher Wren’s finest churches, and housing a remarkable reredos carved by Grinling Gibbons, St James’s is the place where Angelica Kauffman, one of the founders of the Royal Academy, was married in 1767. Caricaturist James Gillray (1756-1815) and portraitist Mary Beale (1633-1699) were buried in the courtyard. William Blake (1757-1827) was baptised in the Grinling Gibbons font and Mary Delany (1700-1788), an artist who created intricate ‘paper mosaiks’ of botanical specimens, has a memorial (although sadly only recognising her as a daughter and wife and not for her creativity).

The Cugoano250 programme included:

Find reviews of Che Lovelace’s Cugoano250 art commissions here

Read Waithera Sebatindira’s review in Art + Christianity here