John Hume joins iconic civil rights leaders in new ‘Liberators’ portraits
John Hume stands alongside three other iconic civil rights leaders in a set of new portraits depicting people who forged generational transatlantic partnerships between Ireland and the United States.
To mark St Patrick’s Day earlier this month, Ireland’s Ambassador to the United States, Daniel Mulhall, unveiled ‘Liberators’, a newly commissioned pair of full-length portraits by LA-based artist, Nikkolas Smith.
Presented as a diptych, the digital paintings feature four iconic individuals – Daniel O’Connell, Frederick Douglass, John Hume and John Lewis – whose lives were rooted in the pursuit of abolition and civil rights.
The paintings will be displayed in the Irish Embassy in Washington DC as a symbol of the long-standing connections between civil rights movements in Ireland and America.
Two of the 19th century’s most celebrated abolitionists, Frederick Douglass and Daniel O’Connell are portrayed in conversation outside of Dublin’s Conciliation Hall where, in September 1845, Douglass first heard O’Connell speak against American slavery. The 27 year old Douglass, who as a slave in Maryland had first encountered O’Connell’s writings, described himself as ‘‘completely captivated’’ by the great Irish orator, noting that ‘‘his power over an audience is perfect.’’ Douglass had fled to Ireland shortly after the release of his autobiography, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave”, and spent four months touring the island. From O’Connell – known as the Liberator for his work to secure Catholic emancipation – Douglass adopted the mantra “agitate” as a form of nonviolent protest. The two shared a dedication to peaceful protest as a way to secure human rights.
The relationship between Congressman John Lewis, of Georgia, and John Hume echoed that of Douglass and O’Connell: both men non-violently sought civil rights in their respective communities. As depicted in Smith’s portrait, they walked arm in arm together across the Peace Bridge in Derry in 2014.
Congressman Lewis, aged 23, was one of the ‘Big Six’ who organised the American civil rights movement in the 1960s, focused on racial equality and voting rights. He continued to champion these issues during his 23 years in Congress and was recognised for his contributions in 2011 when awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Between 1969 and 2005, John Hume represented the constituency of Foyle in his native Derry, variously in the House of Commons in Westminster, the European Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly. A leading activist for peace in Northern Ireland, he drew extensively on the example of Congressman Lewis and other civil rights activists in the United States. Through his outreach across the United States and elsewhere, Hume was central to initiating dialogue among Northern Ireland’s political parties which, eventually, led to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Alongside David Trimble, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize that same year in recognition of that work.
After devoting their lifetimes to the peaceful pursuit of justice and equality on either side of the Atlantic, John Hume and John Lewis passed away within three weeks of each other in the summer of 2020.
Nikkolas Smith – a 2016 White House Innovators of Color fellow – is an accomplished artist. After designing theme parks at Walt Disney Imagineering for 11 years, he is now an ARTivist, concept artist, children’s books author, film illustrator and movie poster designer.
His works have been featured in TIME Magazine, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN , the Academy of Motion Pictures, The Guardian, and many more.
His art has been shared on social media by, among others, Michelle Obama, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.