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Top Shelf (2018)

Liz Johnson Artur

C-Type, black and white fibrebased paper

Guildhall Art Gallery, London

Top Shelf (2018)





C-type photographic print


111.2 x 195.5 cm

Accession Number:



Presented by the Contemporary Art Society with support of the City of London Cooperation, 2018/19

Ownership history:

Purchased from the artist by the Contemporary Art Society, 16 October 2018; presented to Guildhall Art Gallery, 2019


Black (presence)
Liz Johnson Artur is a Ghanaian-Russian photographer who has been working in London since the early 1990s. Her work has documented the lives of Black people from across the African Diaspora, with her recent photographs focusing on Black British communities in Peckham and Brixton, South London.

Top Shelf is a photographic installation comprising of 20 prints from Johnson Artur’s large and diverse oeuvre. Inspired by the Guildhall Art Gallery’s collection, Johnson Artur chose to window mount and frame the prints as one complete piece, creating a contemporary take on the 19th century salon hang of the Gallery’s permanent Victorian collection displays. Top Shelf interweaves different diasporic narratives, highlighting family, love and friendships whilst also exploring the nuances of Blackness. Through her well-observed, tender and empathetic images, Johnson Artur not only documents the everyday lives of Black people, but also subtly draws attention to and challenges perceptions of Black communities in the popular imagination. Images of men with children confront the trope of the absent Black father, whilst the image of a man in drag on a night out raises the subject of being LGBTQ+ within the Black community.

Top Shelf speaks of the ordinary and everyday; it is a vivid portrait of what life is really like in parts of the capital. Whilst the people in the photographs are strangers, they seem familiar, and although Johnson Artur’s work exclusively documents Black communities, the photographs resonate with anyone who knows London.

The Guildhall Art Gallery recently changed its collecting policy, directing its focus to collecting art about London by artists who live and work in the capital. Top Shelf is the first work of Johnson Artur to enter a UK public collection. This acquisition also marks an important moment for the Gallery as she is the first female artist of dual heritage to be represented there.

All rights reserved. Any further use will need to be cleared with the rights holder. Permission granted to reproduce for personal and educational use only. Commercial copying, hiring, lending is prohibited.

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