Zadie Smith has said it was an honour to be drawn as part of an exhibition called Icons Of Colour: Portraits of Brent’s Change Makers.
A portrait of the writer, 46, was drawn by Nigerian-born artist Toyin Ojih Odutola as part of a new display commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) celebrating inspirational people of colour.
The artwork, which used pastel, charcoal, pencil and graphite, will be displayed from December 16 in Smith’s home borough at the Brent Museum and Archives.
Smith said: “It’s a remarkable experience to be drawn by an artist as brilliant as Toyin Ojih Odutola. I can’t say it was a collaboration – I just sat there – but it was an honour.
“She put Willesden behind me and palm fronds around me so I feel very at home. And she gave me better shoes than I own, for which I am grateful.”
Smith is drawn in a relaxed pose, with her hair natural, with shapes and shadows evoking palm trees – which reference Smith’s Jamaican heritage – and a large map of her home town in North-west London in the background.
Dr Nicholas Cullinan, director of the National Portrait Gallery, said: “We are delighted to have commissioned this beautiful and monumental new portrait of one of the greatest literary voices of our time by one of the most innovative and exciting artists working today.
“We are therefore thrilled that this is the first work by Toyin Ojih Odutola to enter a British public collection.
“We are also pleased to be able to display the work in Brent as part of our plans to share hundreds of portraits across the UK while the gallery is closed for this redevelopment, and look forward to its return to a transformed National Portrait Gallery in 2023.”
Smith became a household name with the publication of her award-winning first novel, White Teeth, and her first play, The Wife of Willesden.