Young, gifted and black: Arts and literature choices

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The Independent Online

We continue to live in a fraught age, where the success or otherwise of black artistic talent is defined by the condition of the times. So we're yet to arrive at any kind of golden age – but this is at least a burgeoning period, in that the example of a now-established generation is leading to newer names, younger names and new directions. This momentum gives grounds for optimism

Ekow Eshun is the artistic director of the ICA and a writer and broadcaster. His first book, 'Black Gold of the Sun', was published in 2005

Yinka Shonibare MBE, 45, Artist

Shonibare was born in London and brought up in Lagos, Nigeria, before being sent to boarding school in England, age 16. A Goldsmith's graduate, he was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2004. He lives in Mile End, east London.

Shonibare says: "My work is about colonialism, about my own background. Whether that has been an obstacle or an advantage is interesting. In many ways I have turned what might have been a negative into a positive.

"I use African textiles because the textiles express a trans-cultural background. They originate from Indonesia although the material is produced by the Dutch and I buy them from Brixton market. I use this fabric to express my obsession with Victoriana. It's a love-hate relationship. For me, the Victorian era signifies old England. As a modern person, and particularly a black person, I want to challenge it.

"It's like my relationship to the establishment. I want to challenge it yet at the same time I want the trappings of it. A lot of people thought I would turn down my MBE. I didn't, because it says something interesting about the position of black people in Britain today. Rather than feeling like a victim of history it's better and more helpful to occupy the space of the establishment when the opportunity is given to do so."

Senam Okudzeto, 35, Artist

Her cross-continental background – she was raised in Ghana and Nigeria, educated in Britain and America and now lives between London and Switzerland – fuels work that seeks to unravel the complex political, cultural and economic relations built up between Africa and the west over 500 years.

Eshun says: "Her work reflects her multinational perspective. It can be difficult to get a handle on as it's quite conceptual."

Luke Sutherland, 36, Writer

To say that Luke Sutherland had an unusual childhood is no overstatement. Brought up in Orkney by adopted white parents, he was the only black child at school. Initially a musician, he released three albums before writing his novels Jelly Rolls, Sweetmeat and Venus as a boy.

Eshun says: "He has a versatile creativity as a musician turned novelist and his latest book is being turned into a film."

Diana Evans, 35, Writer

Brought up in north-west London with a Nigerian mother and British father, it was the suicide of her twin sister that prompted Evans to write her first novel, 26a. Grounded in the complexities of twinhood, the novel moves through London and Nigeria where the girls discover that: "Home was homeless. It could exist anywhere, because its only substance was familiarity."

Eshun says: "26a is a fantastic novel. She is one of the best black writers in Britain today."

Amma Asante, 38, Film-maker

Born in Ghana, Asante grew up in one of two black families on her street in Streatham, south London. The sense of isolation she felt as a child was expressed in her debut film, A Way of Life, which tackles teenage female violence and racism.

Eshun says: "She's a talented film-maker at an early point in her career. She shows huge promise."

Noel Clarke, 32, Screenwriter

Clarke wrote the script for the film Kidulthood. Brought up in west London by his Trinidadian mother, the film is a semi-autobiographical story of underage sex and drug-related murder. He clipped newspaper cuttings on teenage gangs for a year, and then weaved his own experiences around them.

Eshun says: "He found a way to tell a story of young urban, disenfranchised people from their own point of view. It's a story with heart and an edge."

Zadie Smith, 32, Writer

Educated at Cambridge, it was Smith's childhood in multicultural north-west London that set the scene for White Teeth, published when she was just 25. Her second novel, The Autograph Man, was followed by On Beauty, which was nominated for the Booker Prize. She is married to the Irish poet Nick Laird.

Eshun says: "She is the enforcer of her generation of literary talent."

Chris Ofili, 39, Artist

Ofili was born in Manchester to Nigerian parents. He achieved notoriety when, in 1999, New York's then mayor, Rudi Giuliani, took offence at his painting The Holy Virgin Mary , in which he had used elephant dung. Ofili's paintings draw on African art, hip hop, porn, William Blake and 1970s comics.

Eshun says: "He is the most significant artist of African origin working in Britain. His work is beautiful, moving and of genuine historical weight."

Steve McQueen, 38, Artist

McQueen was born in west London and studied art at Goldsmiths. His experimental work is described as minimalist: his film Deadpan (1997) reenacts a Buster Keaton stunt in which a house collapses around McQueen, who is left unscathed because he is standing where there is a window. McQueen won the Turner Prize in 1999.

Eshun says: "His work is deeply political and very personal. He creates a universe of symbols and imagery."

Lynette Yiadom Boakye, 30, artist

Yiadom Boakye was born in London and graduated from the Royal Academy, after which she soon came to the attention of Charles Saatchi. Her paintings are a moody and dark take on traditional European portraits. A young black woman with shaved hair, sits in an armchair. The title, Ambassador , insinuates at the false ways in which identity is constructed.

Eshun says: "Her portraits of imaginary figures have a haunting quality. I think she is a rising star."

Research and interviews by Hannah Duguid

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