Desilu Banton

Desilu Banton

Desilu Banton is a British born artist whose work I’ve admired over the past twenty years. Because of the nature of his images his work is not often seen. However I believe his work has much to add to the narrative about the nature of our condition as black people in the contemporary world and so should be placed within that debate. Desilu studied fine arts and interior design.


From my pen

What I remember most about being a child is drawing. No matter how much I look back at my childhood, my clearest recollections are always of me drawing. I can see myself now, sitting on the living room floor surrounded by paper and pieces of cut up cornflakes boxes drawing away at my heart’s content.

I see myself and out of the corner of my eyes the shadowy figure of my mother who was never far away. I drew in the style of the ancient Egyptians, profiles facing to the right or to the left, with figures and limbs in a peculiar posture of grace and spiritual majesty. That’s how I began drawing. The subject matter was always the same, Muhammad Ali fighting in the ring, or me as a cowboy, holding my gun in readiness to do combat. My father adored Muhammad Ali, Cassius Clay, as he was known then. His fights were box office events in our house, and we had ringside seats. Muhammad Ali was our hero, our icon, and to an extent, still is.

On most Saturday afternoons my father would bring home music from the record shops in Brixton Market. He would come home and play the latest popular Reggae tunes that were in vogue and danced by himself. He loved dancing and would urge me to dance; so we would just dance together moving and grooving, and feeling the rhythm inside, we would move according tu’how wi feel, yu knuh?’. Brixton was the place where many of the early Jamaicans settled in the 50s and 60s when they first come to ‘hinglan’. For me and many of my generation, being of Jamaican descent is important. In Brixton you will find archive material of the so-called “West Indians” but we is not Hindians, we is black people. When colours came into the equation and drawing turned into painting, music became an important part of the mix, it could not be otherwise. To paint without feeling music in the mix? ‘you mus si mad, dat cuan work!’ My mother use to sew and do knitting, she made her own dresses. I remember my godfather taking me to the east end of London in his American car, to buy cloth from Jewish traders. I remember jostling in the market and seeing all the different kinds of people, I remember the impression this made on my young mind; in particular the Jewish and Indian traders.

The early settlers in Brixton all knew each other. The community was very tight one, our parents always knew somebody who knew’ You could not, and certainly did not do things that you shouldn’t ...otherwise you woulda feel it! My father loved the dynamics of mixing with people. To him it was the thing, my mother, on the other hand, was less extrovert. My father took me everywhere he went, into bars, gambling houses and shibeens, and if he had business fi tek care of wid one man inna ah whore house, well, wi’ nuh have noh chice, de man inside deh, an’ man ah man, soh...we ah fi goh in deh.
Desilu Banton 2008

See more of Desilu's work