Michael X, Africa and the Middle East
The dominant, divided portrait shows Michael X, a reformed gangster and British civil rights activist born in Trinidad who was controversially executed for murder there in 1975. Topolski’s introduction to the Black Panthers, depicted elsewhere in the Century, was through Michael X.
The large central section represents Topolski’s travels through Africa in the early 1960s and later in the 1970s, decades when colonial rule was coming to an end. The individuals he has painted include two African independence leaders — a dominant portrait of Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya and a smaller one of Hastings Banda of Malawi, as well as a black and white robed judge in Ghana.
Topolski also visited Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana and Congo as well as Ethiopia and Algeria. From his 1974 visit to South Africa he depicts the author Alan Paton and a wedding he attended in Soweto. There are also a variety of animals, including two giraffes. The swathe of yellow here represents the Sahara Desert, separating the red of west and central Africa from his next destination, north Africa and the Middle East.
In 1964, Topolski was in the Middle East to record the visit of Pope Paul VI to the Holy Land. The Century includes paintings of old and young Israelis and Palestinians. Topolski followed the Pope on to Jordan, a visit represented in the Century by a portrait of the country’s leader, King Hussein. Topolski met and drew the King for the BBC TV Face to Face series.