Continuing our celebration of Black History Month, today we highlight the life and career of inspirational artist and director, Steve McQueen.
Sir Steven Rodney McQueen, was born in Ealing in 1969, Ealing, to a Grenadian father and a Trinidadian mother, both of whom had immigrated to England. He studied art in London at the Chelsea College of Art and Design and at Goldsmiths College, where he developed an enthusiasm for film. That interest led to a short stint at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. He nonetheless continued to make art, including photographs, sculptures, short films, and installations. His early films included Deadpan (1997) which won the Turner Prize in 1999; the filmmaker’s take on a scene from Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928.
McQueen continued make art and to exhibit his work, but he admitted, after a time, to being bored with the art world. In 2003 he was commissioned by the Imperial War Museum and the Manchester International Festival to create an artwork that honoured the service of the British armed forces in Iraq.
He produced Queen and Country (2007), an oak cabinet with pull-outs containing a series of 160 facsimile postage-stamp sheet blocks. Each sheet block commemorates one soldier, showing multiple images of a single family-supplied photograph together with the soldier’s name, rank, regiment, age, and death date. The images are presented in chronological order of death. (McQueen considered the work incomplete until the stamps were issued for everyday use by the Royal Mail, which the RM declined to do.)
His ascent to the top was complete when he won the Academy Award for Best Motion Picture of the Year in 2014 — the first Black director or producer to do so — for 12 Years a Slave, based on the harrowing real experiences of Solomon Northup, a free African-American man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1840s Louisiana.
Speaking about this year, the world’s health in general and how education is the answer:
“It’s only now that people are waking up to the fact that there’s been injustices against Black people for decades in this country, and centuries elsewhere. It took a pandemic. It took a brutal killing. It took millions marching. For people to think, ‘Possibly I should think in a different way.’ And only possibly, it’s not actually done yet. Millions of people on the street before change can even be considered, before people can think that even possibly something could be wrong! The world is not a healthy place. If you really want change, if you are really serious about it then, hey, it starts from the beginning. Education. I feel hope because young people now are willing to speak out. And it’s been very moving. John Boyega speaking out in Hyde Park. It’s very healthy, very cathartic. And I’d add to that the #MeToo movement as well. Can this moment be capitalised on? It’s an interesting moment, but we’ll see what happens.”
McQueen was awarded the OBE and CBE before being knighted at the start of this year, and has proved himself — in his unparalleled 30-year career — to be one of the most vital, original, uncompromising, inspirational, challenging and brilliant creative voices of our time.
Inspired by, and with excerpts from, this interview in Esquire
(Image Credit: BBC)