Publish date: 23 October 2023

A new portrait of Dr James Samuel Risien Russell, one of Britain’s first Black British consultants, was unveiled at the NHNN last week, as part of our Black History Month celebrations.

The new artwork celebrates the pioneering researcher, teacher and neurology consultant at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery.

Helen Burgess, Smita Bapat, Des Haughton, Segilola Onibuje and David Chal

Working alongside Arthur Torrington CBE (Windrush Foundation) and UCLH Charity, UCLH Arts and Heritage and the Queen’s Square BAME network set out to share Dr Russell’s story and recognise the pioneering contributions he made to the wider field of neurology, whilst overcoming prejudices and biases.

Dr Russell was born in British Guiana (now Guyana) in 1863. He studied medicine and surgery at Edinburgh University, before completing his medical training at St Thomas’ Hospital in London in 1895. In 1898, he was appointed to resident medical officer at National Hospital Queen Square. Throughout his career, he held many prestigious posts, including president of the neurology section of the Royal Society of Medicine and sat on the Board of Management of the National Hospital. Later, Dr Russell served as a captain in the First World War, based in London, and was especially interested in the treatment of shellshock.

Award-winning artist Des Haughton was successfully commissioned to produce the artwork for display within Queen Square. Haughton, who has shared Guyanese heritage and studied fine art at The Slade, UCL (University College London),gave a talk at the unveiling event.

Speaking about his work and the commission, Des Haughton said:

“Dr Russell made such huge contributions to the health and well-being of others; it is important that we recognise and honour his achievements.”

David Chal, general manager for stroke, rehab and therapies services at NHNN said:

“The BAME Network at Queen Square have had an ongoing project to recognise and celebrate the life of Dr Russell. We wanted to share his story, highlighting the discoveries he provided to the field of neurology and recognise the prejudices and biases he had to deal with. We hope that it inspires global ethnic minority staff to break through barriers, prejudice and glass ceilings to achieve greatness.”

Amanda Lee-Ajala, EDI lead for UCLH, said:

"First, I would like to congratulate the BAME Network at Queens Square, on this fantastic project and event. It really warmed my heart – I learnt more than I imagined about Dr Risen Russell; the inspirational pioneer, his struggles, and the magnificent work he achieved in the face of adversity. I also loved the insight Arthur Torrington was able to share in his address about his place of birth and aspirations. As we celebrate Black History Month, I was very proud to celebrate this great man. I would really encourage you to visit Queens Square to see the wonderful portrait that Des Haughton has delivered."