Alumnus Habib exhibits Black Pen Portraits in Leicester – curated by fellow alumna

Habib and Rebecca standing together with a piece of art featuring a person in the centre. In the background of the artwork there are colourful shapes. Image courtesy of Reece Straw.

Imagery courtesy of Reece Straw

Habib Hajallie, and award-winning artist and honouree on Forbes’ 30 under 30 list 2023, is currently holding his second solo exhibition at the Attenborough Arts Centre in Leicester. ‘Habib Hajallie: Black Pen Portraits’ has been curated by fellow Loughborough graduate, Rebecca Wymant.

A portrait. In the background of the artwork there are colourful shapes. Image courtesy of Reece Straw.

Habib graduated with a degree in Fine Art in 2017 and since then he has become an elected member of The Royal Society of British Artists and was named the winner of The UK New Artist of The Year Award 2022.

His work mostly uses ballpoint pen, often incorporating maps and antique texts into his canvas.

Through his art, Habib champions figures from ethnically diverse backgrounds who have traditionally been omitted from British portraiture. Though born in Southeast London, Habib’s drawings are often informed by his Sierra Leonean and Lebanese heritage.

In this impressive body of work, featured in Gallery 2 at the Attenborough Arts Centre, Habib strives to readdress the lack of visibility of figures from global majority ethnic backgrounds by questioning our ideas of what it means to be British, as well as the uncomfortable nuances that are associated with this. Ultimately, Habib’s work looks to inspire a conversation and embolden people who feel as though they have been labelled as the ‘other’ in any way.

On public display for the first time is ‘Alpha III’, commissioned by Attenborough Arts Centre for the exhibition. The work depicts Habib’s mother Amina Hajallie, assuming the role of Farma Tami, the founder of the Temne tribe (from Sierra Leone) in the 16th century, from which his family are descended. The coloured felt pens of the background depict textile-like patterns influenced from Sierra Leone.

Many pieces of Habib's artwork displayed on a black wall. Imagery courtesy of Reece Straw.

Working alongside Habib, Rebecca, a Curatorial Trainee who graduated from Loughborough with a degree in Fine Art in 2018, has been at Attenborough Arts for a couple of years. She works with the visual arts team to develop the exhibitions programme and has assisted on the curation of a range of exhibitions including Bruce McLean: Black Garden Paintings, Alice Mann: Covid Change Makers: Going the Extra Mile, jas singh: hippocratic / hippocrite, and Trans Post Project.

Working on Habib’s exhibition has been a highlight for Rebecca. She said:

“I have thoroughly enjoyed curating this exhibition and it has been a fantastic opportunity to take full responsibility of a project and work with Habib. I have worked on all aspects of the exhibition from the concept, creating a narrative, organising transport, to the final layout and installation. It has been an extremely rewarding processes to provide a platform to showcase Habib’s work and a safe space to inspire conversations and reflection from our visitors. I feel really proud of what we have managed to achieve.”

The exhibition opened on 20 October and will be on display until 10 December.

Imagery courtesy of Reece Straw.