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Amplifying Black and Diverse Histories the Focus of New Wikimedia Foundation Collaboration with African Artist

The Wikimedia Foundation, the global nonprofit that operates Wikipedia, announced the launch of Wiki Unseen, a collaboration with artists aimed at expanding the visual representation of Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) in Wikimedia projects and advancing knowledge equity.

The commissioned artists include Enam Bosokah from Ghana, Esther Griffith from Trinidad, and Bukhtawar Malik from the United States. Among the first articles that will feature new illustrations are: Marian Ewurama AddyWilliam GreavesRose Dieng-KuntzMay MillerMercedes Richards, and Asquith Xavier. These portraits were published throughout February; they include personalities whose images are not freely licensed and therefore unable to be added to Wikipedia articles. 

Portrait of Mercedes Richards by Esther Griffith.

Esther Griffith was born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago, in the Caribbean. Esther currently resides there where she has been a studio painter and illustrator for over ten years. She is a graduate of the University of the West Indies Visual Arts Program and a recipient of the Emerging Leaders in the Americas Programme scholarship granted by the Canadian government. Esther specialises in portraiture and her art has been exhibited both in Trinidad and Tobago and in Canada. Her work can currently be seen in galleries in Trinidad and Tobago and is collected by clients throughout Trinidad and Tobago, Canada, and the USA.

Esther looks to nature, particularly the geomorphology of the earth, for inspiration. This informs her mark-making as well as her process and she also enjoys the diversity among humankind. These differences inspire her to paint people and to peer beyond the surface to explore the emotional and mental state of her subjects. Here, Esther tells us more about her contribution to this important project.

Expanding the visual representation of Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) is a crucial issue. How did it feel to be one of the selected artists dealing with this pressing issue?

I am excited to contribute to Wiki Unseen and I’ve enjoyed playing a part in this project. I love the diversity found among people and I’ve always felt it important to paint people of different races and backgrounds and to be inclusive in that respect. I find the range of features seen among different races so amazing and I enjoy that my work can showcase that.

Portrait of Asquith Xavier by Esther Griffith.

Which historical figures were you commissioned to create portraits for? How did the process of creating these figures impact you?

I chose to illustrate Asquith Xavier and Mercedes Richards. They were both so inspiring in their outlook on life and their courage. Asquith braved death threats and other forms of intimidation to get a job so that he could take care of his family. That showed me that it’s ok to stand out as different if it means standing up for what’s right. Mercedes, as an astrophysicist, valued not just science but the arts and history. She felt that they were all intertwined. I’m also inspired by the world around me. It reinforces that we must be willing to learn and explore to be creative, no matter the field we are in. That way we make a truly informed and exciting contribution through our work.

How would you like to see your participation influencing other artists?

I hope to inspire other artists to delve into history, particularly to learn about historical figures that aren’t so well known. Learning about these people could inspire them to illustrate them and in doing so, bring these figures to life. It would help to humanise these people and assist in telling their important stories.

For more information about the Wikimedia Foundation and Wiki Unseen, visit unseen.wikimedia.org. To learn more about how the Wikimedia Foundation and movement are working towards knowledge equity, visit wikimediafoundation.org/opentheknowledge.

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