Exhibition Review: Portrait Of A Top Boy @ Somerset House

on Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Portrait Of A Top Boy at Somerset House Embankment Galleries // Words and Photos: Saam Das

Portrait Of A Top Boy exhibition details

What a pleasant surprise it was to stumble upon the free pop-up of Portrait Of A Top Boy at Somerset House recently, while wandering around for London's Open House Festival. 'Top Boy' enters its final stretch this month, with the concluding season of the inner city crime drama now on Netflix, and this exhibition has been curated by Ronan Mckenzie to both promote the show as well as a series of emerging black artists.

'Top Boy' made its TV debut on Channel 4 in 2011, created by Irish screenwriter Ronan Bennett, based on their experience of living in Hackney, informed by friendships with local community leaders including Gerry Jackson. The drama has developed close ties within the music world with central characters played by Ashley Walters (So Solid Crew's Asher D), Kane 'Kano' Robinson, Little Simz and Dave, as well as being given its flowers by the likes of global superstars Stormzy and Drake.

The initial section of the exhibition is somewhat ominous, with its blood-red walls, and minimalist slogans such as "THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE". Fans of 'The Highlander' perhaps? The red hue and slogans feature through most of the exhibition but do not overshadow the main showcase area, which displays portraits created by sixteen emerging British black artists.

Notable highlights include Ken Nwadiogbu's Spider-Man-esque portrayal of Stefan, Aaron Bevan-Bailey and Annan Affotey's contrasting takes on Dushane, and Tejumola Butler Adenuga's dot-to-dot pointillism portrait of Stefan. Our favourite aspect however comes toward the end of the exhibition where visitors are invited to contribute to what a 'Top Boy' means to them - often deeply heartfelt messages, but the person who noted that they "stole a Netflix password" to watch amused us greatly.

Inside the Portrait Of A Top Boy artists showcase area

A final video featuring the behind the scenes creation of the portraits as well as the artists' views on the show has curator Ronan McKenzie congratulate us as "part of the legacy and celebration to bring 'Top Boy' to life." A fitting send off in a fitting location for such a culturally impactful programme.


Portrait Of A Top Boy is open between 9-13th September 2023, at Somerset House's Embankment Galleries. Opening times and more info at somersethouse.org. The final season of 'Top Boy' is out now on Netflix.

msn spaces tracker