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The Photographers’ Gallery: Photographer Shonay Shote challenges mainstream narratives of Black Women and Blackness with new exhibit “A Black Actress”

The Photographers’ Gallery: Photographer Shonay Shote challenges mainstream narratives of Black Women and Blackness with new exhibit “A Black Actress”

A Black Actress is an exciting new exhibition featuring portraits of some of the UK’s female rising stars. The actresses who are of West Indian and African heritage are photographed by Shonay Shote. ALT invited Shonay to talk about the exhibit in her own words with quotes from some of the women in the exhibit who are well known names like Joan Iyiola, Ashley Bannerman, Gemma Knight Jones, Jennifer Saayeng, Adele Oni, Lolly Adefope, Vanessa Vanderpuye, Faith Alabi, Tamara Lawrance, Susan Wokoma, Amara Okereke and more: A Black Actress can be viewed on The Photographers’ Gallery instagram page from the 8th of October.

Shonay Shote says…………

“Acting and survival are things we as Black women are accustomed to, so it seemed fitting to use my lens as a way to celebrate the women whose careers delve into the myriad of roles, we as Black women portray.

In a landscape where being a Black woman at times can feel synonymous with pain and struggle, and being in a constant state of flux “A Black Actress” is a joyous nod to the Black female image especially at time where racial trauma is laid bare celebrating black women has so much more urgency and agency.

Joan Iyiola shot by Shonay for A Black Actress © 2020

By giving the portraits a more romantic notion of Black womanhood, I wanted to challenge mainstream narratives of Blackness as the arguments rage around how Black women are depicted in front of the lens. With the most recent backlash to Annie Leibovitz’s Vogue cover of Simone Biles, the series is a tonic to the missteps that seem to be ever prevalent in the visual media when telling stories of Black women.

Like many Black women seeking images that reaffirm their identity and sense of belonging, it is simple what Black women need. Turn Up Charlie actress Ashley Bannerman notes “being a Black actress is important because representation in the media affects how we see ourselves and others.”

As a Black female photographer, by focusing this series of portraits on women who look like me, I want the audience, to not only connect with the sitters, and in them, see themselves lovingly portrayed. But to question how they internalize images of Black women they consume in the media.

Amara Okereke shot by Shonay for A Black Actress © 2020

BLM has laid bare the power of narratives when wielded by those outside of the communities it affects, and, at times we fill powerless to subvert those narratives. The beauty, vulnerability and charm that each actress brings to each portrait conveys a deeper story beyond the one of suffering so loved by mainstream media. And with this comes their strength, creating avatars that give us a truer sense of ourselves, empowering us to challenge the status quo.

The Stage Debut Award winner Amara Okereke says “being a black actress means owning a space even when you feel like you don’t belong. It means demanding a seat at the table and if that fails, building your own table.”

See Also

Through showcasing its own cast of successful actresses, A Black Actress seeks to celebrate the beauty and limitless potential of Black women.”

The full series of portraits can be viewed on The Photographers’ Gallery Instagram page from the 8th of October 2020. Learn more about the project at and sign up to join the livestream round table on the 23rd of October where the actresses will be talking about their experiences.

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