taking our culture forward

AFRIOM portraits

Mon, 21 Sep 2020

An unusual series of portraits of Manx people have been unveiled by Beth Louella.

Created for Culture Vannin as a part of their Treisht projects, Beth’s three pieces focus on people with African heritage, emphasising the richness of their stories and cultures.

Beth Louella proposed the project herself, as it chimed closely with her own feelings about Manx identity:

My art is largely celebratory and key themes include heritage, culture and identity. There are so many people with connections to the Isle of Man spread across the world and many countries represented here on the Island. I believe these connections enrich our culture and are something to celebrate.

The AFRIOM portraits incorporate elements from various settings, including imagery, colour and text woven together to represent the sitters’ personalities and heritage.

Beth writes:

The paintings feature people who live in the Isle of Man who have African heritage and are passionate about their island home and contribute in many ways. The portraits are painted using the colours of Manx National Tartan (green – fields and valleys, light blue - sky, dark blue - sea, purple - heather, red - fuchsia, white - cottages and yellow - gorse) with shades altered to work best in the artworks. There are obvious and subtle visual references in each of the paintings, every pattern includes elements from the Isle of Man and the African country each person is connected with. The words in the paintings come from each of the islanders, include lines from the Manx National Anthem chosen specifically and reference the Isle of Man (IOM) and each African country.

O Gem’ features a woman born in Ghana who has lived in the Isle of Man for many years. The patterns on her top are in a popular Ghanaian layout and show both her Ghanaian and Manx identity through shapes such as the star from the flag of Ghana alongside the Celtic Trinity Knot (triquetra). The text in the background focuses on celebrating the freedom to be yourself and express yourself in the Isle of Man. The woman’s red hair contrasts with the main colours in the painting making the image especially dynamic and reflecting her vibrant personality as well as linking with the theme of freedom of expression.

O Land’ shows twin Manx men, born in the Isle of Man with Kenyan heritage. The text around one of the necklines reads ‘Manx – Luo – Kalenjin’, whilst the Manx element indicates their birthplace on the Isle of Man, Luo and Kalenjin are Kenyan tribes. This painting contains all the colours and features key items from both the Kenyan flag and flag of Mann. Both young men have represented the Isle of Man in sports and achieved a number of awards, this is reflected in the image by the circles and leaves on their tops (indicating growth and development) alongside the scallop shell and the prominent positioning of the Three Legs of Man.

Sweet Mountain Air’ features a young woman born in Zimbabwe who has lived in the Isle of Man since she was a child. The text in the background refers to her African royal heritage, the ‘safe haven’ feeling of the island and the similarities she has found in the strong community cultures of both the Isle of Man and Zimbabwe. The patterns on her top refer to traditional Zimbabwean patterns and feature animals from the Isle of Man and Zimbabwe such as a Manx wallaby and Zimbabwean elephant. The style of the animals reflects how they are shown on ancient stone crosses in the Isle of Man as well as the simplified style of the Zimbabwean patterns.

James Franklin of Culture Vannin writes:

Beth has captured these subjects perfectly. Confident, vibrant and celebratory, we could not think of a better way to represent these Manx people who are adding their own stories and heritage to the rich tapestry of who we are as Manx people.

The series of images were produced as one of the Treisht projects commissioned by Culture Vannin. Re-purposing grant and development money from events and projects cancelled during the start of lockdown, these projects offered a wide range of creative opportunities for creative freelance professionals to engage with Manx culture. Created during Covid19 lockdown, they were designed to appeal primarily to freelancers who needed the work at that difficult time, whilst creating resources which will be of use to the people of the Isle of Man and beyond for years to come.

Triesht projects include Phil Kneen’s photographs of the Island in lockdown; Manx music lessons by Isla Callister, Peddyr Cubberley, Mera Royle and others; Manx song lessons by Ruth Keggin Gell and Phil Gawne; interpretations of the Manx Traditionary Ballad by Beth Louella; art inspired by Manx culture from Matthew Clayton, Graham Rider, Juan Moore and others; sound recording and film projects from Dark Avenue Film, Open Water films and others. All are being released by Culture Vannin over the coming months.

All of Beth’s portraits and the other Treisht projects can be found on the Culture Vannin website:

AFRIOM portraits

Treisht projects