A new exhibition at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) is featuring sculptures by British artist Thomas J. Price, who creates realistic and powerful portraits of Black people in everyday situations. The exhibition, titled Thomas J. Price: Witness, is the first solo show of the artist at the V&A, and showcases his works across the museum’s galleries, alongside historical and classical sculptures.
Price, who is of Jamaican and British descent, says his sculptures are inspired by his own experiences and observations of Black people in Britain, as well as by his interest in ancient art and mythology. He says he aims to challenge the stereotypes and prejudices that often shape the perception of Black people in society, and to celebrate their diversity and dignity.
“I think it’s important to have representations of Black people that are not based on trauma or oppression or struggle, but just based on our humanity and our existence,” Price says. “I want to create sculptures that are relatable, that are accessible, that are not intimidating or alienating, but that are inviting and engaging.”
One of his most striking sculptures is Moments Contained, a 12-foot bronze statue of a woman standing confidently with her hands in her pockets. The sculpture is displayed in the courtyard space outside the museum, where it contrasts with the ornate architecture and the fountain. Price says the sculpture represents a “contained sense of confidence and intrinsic understanding of one’s own value”.
Another sculpture, Numan (Shifting Votive One), depicts a man holding a phone to his ear, as if having a casual conversation. The sculpture is placed in the Medieval and Renaissance Gallery, among statues of saints and kings. Price says he wanted to create a contrast between the historical figures and the contemporary person, and to question the notions of power and prestige that are often associated with sculpture.
Price also uses digital technology to create his sculptures, which he says allows him to experiment with different forms and expressions. He uses 3D scanning and modelling to create composites of different faces and bodies, which he then sculpts in clay and casts in bronze. He says this process enables him to create fictional characters that are not based on specific individuals, but rather on collective identities.
The exhibition also includes a series of photographs by Price, titled Head 24-28, which show close-ups of his sculptures from different angles. The photographs highlight the details and textures of the sculptures, as well as their emotional impact. Price says he hopes his photographs will encourage viewers to look more closely at his sculptures, and to appreciate their beauty and complexity.
The exhibition is part of the V&A’s ongoing efforts to diversify its collections and exhibitions, and to reflect the multicultural society of Britain. Melanie Vandenbrouck, curator of the exhibition, says Price’s sculptures are “a powerful statement of inclusion and diversity” that challenge the traditional representations of sculpture in the museum.
“Thomas J. Price’s work is not about aggrandizing individuals, it’s not about portraiture. It’s about the everyday person. It’s about all of us. And in this, it’s just work that makes you feel valued and respected and heard and seen,” Vandenbrouck says.
Thomas J. Price: Witness runs at the V&A until November 5. Admission is free.