Portrait of a Top Boy: Why Art Matters

Portrait of a Top Boy: Why Art Matters

“Art is about articulating your own existence” –  Kerry James Marshall

When it comes to fine art, unexpected intersections often lead to the creation of powerful and thought-provoking works. One eyebrow-raising intersection that is commonly known by the masses and known by experience by small powerful circles, is the the fusion of art, drugs and money. While these three worlds may cross paths illicitly in various forms, what remains unfamiliar is the legal legacy of archiving underrepresented stories through figurative acrylic paintings.

Portrait of a Top Boy is the latest groundbreaking exhibition curated by Ronan Mckenzie, created to remember and extend the legacy of 12 years of the hit TV series Top Boy.

As Top Boy reaches the end of its third and final season, the exhibition stands as a testament to the lasting impact of the show. Featuring the work of 16 talented artists, the exhibition serves as an artistic tribute to the characters that have graced the screens over the years. These artists have masterfully immortalised characters from all three seasons, capturing the essence and complexity of each persona. Portrait of a Top Boy does more than just showcase art; it also poses an intriguing question to visitors: “What is a Top Boy?” Alluding to the fact that in the final season, “there can only be one.”

Running as a free, 5-day exhibition, the show allows visitors to immerse themselves in the world of the show until Wednesday, 13th September at Somerset House with operating hours from 12:30 pm to 6:30 pm (last entry at 6pm).

Exhibition Review

What sets this exhibition apart is its remarkable ability to humanise the characters of Top Boy. Through bold vinyl graphics encased by warm warning red lighting reads “NO HEROES NO VILLAINS”. This is as the series excels in telling stories of individuals who might otherwise be stigmatised as villains or misunderstood by unempathetic spectators of society. The exhibition therefore grants viewers an in-person opportunity to empathise with the complex struggles and lives lived by the characters.

The immersive experience is carefully curated to engage visitors on multiple levels (mentally and physically with the two-story display). It includes immersive video files featuring main characters Sully (played by Kane Brett Robinson) and Dushane (played by Ashley Walters) and behind-the-scenes footage of artists creating their masterpieces in their own studios. The exhibition also provides a wall for visitors to answer the central question and leave reviews of how the show has impacted them, emphasizing the importance of community engagement and feedback.

Kehinde Wiley once stated, “I want my art to represent the ways in which we, as Black people, navigate the world”. Portrait of a Top Boy serves as a testament to the power of art in archiving underrepresented stories. It exemplifies the fusion of fine art and a gritty, realistic portrayal of life in marginalised communities, and it encourages us to rethink the boundaries of artistic expression. Through this exhibition, we are reminded that art is a potent tool for preserving and celebrating the rich tapestry of cultures, and it has the potential to create a sense of belonging for all.

Overall, art is a universal language that transcends boundaries and histories. This exhibition’s location within London’s Somerset House is symbolic in itself, serving as a reminder that art belongs to all communities and narratives. It challenges the narrative that art is solely confined to high-class institutions and instead showcases the richness of untold stories. Much like the series Top Boy, this exhibition deserves a global stage, as it authentically portrays the diverse narratives and perspectives often overshadowed by mainstream media.

16 featured artist:

  1. Aaron Bevan-Bailey
  2. Annan Affotey
  3. Babajide Olatunji
  4. Brianna Lois Parker
  5. Cristale Deabreu
  6. Hamed Maiye
  7. Jack Dickson
  8. Joshua Donkor
  9. Ken Nwadiogbu
  10. Kione Grandison
  11. Natasha Muluswela
  12. Olivia Twist
  13. Tejumola Butler Adenuga
  14. Teoni Hinds
  15. Toby Michael
  16. Tonique Adacia Sewell

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Alero Helena