UK Black Pride founder Lady Phyll honoured with statue

Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, executive director and co-founder of UK Black Pride, has had her work recognised with a statuette, which was created as part of a campaign to celebrate the achievements of 25 living women.

The sandstone figurine of Opoku-Gyimah—widely known as Lady Phyll—was unveiled at a ceremony in Lambeth, south-east London, on Friday as part of Historic England’s “Immortalised” exhibition, which looks at statues and memorials in the UK.

Lady Phyll’s artwork was made as part of Put Her Forward—a campaign thought up by artistic collective non zero one—which has created 25 statues to recognise the the work of 25 living women across the UK.

Lady Phyll with her statue on Friday. (Alice Boagey/Heritage Open Days)

The women were selected after the public was asked to nominate individuals who they felt had “done remarkable things to positively impact the people around them.”

Statues, made using 3D scanning and printing technology, were unveiled in various locations across the country—also including Newcastle, Manchester and Leeds—between September 6 and 16.

Lady Phyll co-founded UK Black Pride back in 2005, following the success of another group—Black Lesbians in the UK (BLUK)—which she had been running.

The LGBT+ rights campaigner made national news in 2016 when she turned down an MBE offered to her on 2016’s New Year’s Honours list, telling DIVA she refused the award because of its links to “colonialism and its toxic and enduring legacy in the Commonwealth, where—among many other injustices—LGBTQI people are still being persecuted, tortured and even killed because of sodomy laws.”

Speaking to PinkNews, Lady Phyll said it was “empowering” to see her work being recognised and highlighted the contributions of women of colour in the LGBT+ rights movement.

“There are so many women doing amazing work and I hope as the fantastic work of non zero one continues to grow the #PutHerForward project will get bet bigger and allow for more statues of diverse women with powerful stories.”

Phyll Opoku-Gyimah has had her work recognised with a statue of herself. (Alice Boagey/Heritage Open Days)

She continued: “But I can’t just accept the accolade without recognising and acknowledging the people that paved the way, especially women of colour, who have allowed me to amplify my voice, challenge and fight for equality and inclusion without apology.

“When I saw for the first time the unveiled statue of myself, I could not explain the overwhelming feelings that ran through me like a rollercoaster. Alll I know is that I am truly grateful and realise that my purpose it to ensure that our next generation can claim their space, feel visible, not erased and positively represented 365 days of the year, 24/7.”

Two other LGBT+ women have been featured as part of the Put Her Forward initiative, which was commissioned by Heritage Open Days.

Put Her Forward celebrates the achievements of 25 living women in the UK. (Alice Boagey/Heritage Open Days)

A statuette of Catrina McHugh holding a Pride flag, who runs Open Clasp, an LGBT+ theatre company supporting marginalised women, was unveiled in Newcastle on September 6.

And, on September 15, Christine Burns, a retired computer scientist and author of Trans Britain, was presented with a figurine of herself at the LGBT Foundation in Manchester.

Cat Harrison, one of four artists at non zero one, told PinkNews that the group was inspired by Caroline Criado Perez, who led the campaign for suffragist Millicent Fawcett to get a statue in Parliament Square, London.

“Role model research shows that if you see people like you be respected and admired for their achievements, you are more likely to achieve things also—you are more likely to succeed,” she told PinkNews.

“The research has linked this to a whole load of things from political awareness and likelihood of voting, getting higher test scores and even being able to speak better in public.”

Catrina McHugh at her statuette unveiling in September. (Cat Harrison)

She said that non zero one, which was founded in 2009 by the four artists when they were studying at Royal Holloway, were shocked by the low number of statues recognising women in the UK.

There are 925 public statues in the UK, but only 158 of these depict women.

According to non zero one, only 25 of these 158 statues are of “non-mythical, non-royal women.” There are are more statues celebrating goats and men named “John” than these 25 individuals.

“Our hope for the project was to get the public thinking about what living women are making an impact now, and that these statues of a broad representation of women can inspire other people to make change.

“That if Lady Phyll, Christine Burns, Catrina McHugh can do it… maybe you can too.”

Christine Burns at her statue unveiling on Saturday. (Cat Harrison) 

She added: “Phyll has been putting herself forward for many years way before our project, which is inspiring in itself. But Phyll is also incredibly articulate and generous with her time—she is always running from event to event raising awareness of race, gender and class intersectionality. We’re honoured to have as part of Put Her Forward.”

Lady Phyll was nominated for a statue by Justin Varney, an LGBT+ rights campaigner and national strategic advisor on health and work at Public Health England.

Other women selected by Put Her Forward include Carly Jones, an advocate for autistic women and girls; Robina Shah, the first Asian person to be appointed as chair of an NHS trust; and Paige Hunter, who is known for her work attaching messages of hope and the Samaritans’ helpline number to notes on Wearmouth Bridge in Sunderland.