‘A love letter to Black Britain’—NPG portrait of White Teeth author Zadie Smith is Brent bound

'Sadie' (Zadie Smith) by Toyin Ojih Odutola courtesy National Portrait Gallery

The Nigerian-born artist, Toyin Ojih Odutola did not hold back when she heard that the National Portrait Gallery in London (NPG) wanted her to paint acclaimed UK author Zadie Smith. “When I got the letter that I was to create a commission portrait of Zadie, I cried,” says Ojih Odutola. The NPG already owns three other photographic portraits of Smith, taken at the beginning of her career in 1999, 2000 and 2002; this though is the first painting of the writer whose smash hit novels include WhiteTeeth, Swing Time and On Beauty. In an interview posted on the NPG website, Smith describes how the pair clicked. “I don’t like posing for photographs, and Toyin works by photographing first, but she did it with such incredible speed and lightness on her iPhone, while we listened to the new Solange, and smoked a few cigarettes, and I felt none of the humiliation or boredom I usually feel in front of a camera,” she says. Ojih Odutola is just as jubilant, saying: “I took this commission to heart and wanted to create an homage to the significant work this woman has done, but also a love letter to Black Britain.” The full-length portrait, entitled Sadie (Zadie Smith), 2018-19, will go on display in Smith’s home borough of Brent in north west London at the Brent Museum and Archives as part of Brent 2020, London Borough of Culture (Sadie is Zadie’s real name by the way).