Jackie Kay, born 1961. Poet

© M A Snowden

Michael Snowden

Jackie Kay, born 1961. Poet

about 2004

Sheila Asante, Migration Stories Curator, Scottish National Portrait Gallery This Portrait of the Month is selected by Sheila Asante, Migration Stories Curator, Scottish National Portrait Gallery

This sculpture by Michael Snowden is part of Edinburgh Park’s public arts programme. Twelve life-size bronze castings of heads are placed throughout the park, each celebrating a Scottish poet or writer. The experience of sitting for this bust inspired Jackie Kay to write a collection of poems, entitled Life Mask (2005). The poems deal with both the physical process of modelling for a sculpture and with identity and the different masks we wear.

Kay is an Edinburgh-born poet and writer. Her work explores issues of identity. Kay’s birth father was a Nigerian forestry student, her mother a nurse in north-east Scotland. In her critically acclaimed debut poetry collection, The Adoption Papers (1991), Kay writes about her adoption by white Scottish parents in 1961. Last year she returned to this subject in her memoir Red Dust Road (2010), which details her experiences of meeting her birth parents.

The book is filled with questions about inheritance and belonging, knowing that ‘part of me came from Africa, part of me was foreign to myself’. Yet the Africa that formed in her imagination was fed by the myths and stereotypes of colonial Britain.

These are just some of the concerns we will be exploring in the new Migration Stories Gallery in the re-opened Scottish National Portrait Gallery. The Gallery will deal with the question of what is Scottish identity, encompassing issues of place, belonging, exile, and tradition. It will examine how migrants, both into and out of Scotland, continue to shape Scotland’s identity.