Work of Former DACA Student Exhibited at National Portrait Gallery

Date: August 8th 2017

The BP Portrait Award, now in its thirty-eighth year at the National Portrait Gallery, is an unmissable highlight of the annual art calendar – and so it is no surprise that ex DACA student, Khushna Sulaman-Butt, is thrilled to be one of the 53 artists to have had their painting shortlisted for the 2017 Award – and at 21 years old, she is this year’s youngest exhibitor.

The team at the Foundation is equally as excited and feeling extremely proud of Khushna’s outstanding achievement, particularly when we learnt that her painting was selected from 2,580 entries by artists from 87 countries around the world!

Khushna studied at the Darwen Aldridge Community Academy from 2008 to 2013 and was the first Aldridge student to gain a place at Oxford University, where she studied Fine Art, graduating in 2016. She attributes her success in education and beyond partly to the education championed by the Aldridge Foundation and the effect this had on her time at school. Some of the Aldridge Attributes, especially risk-taking, passion and determination, really shine through in Khushna’s story.

In her second year of sixth form, Khushna took a risk by changing her A-level subject choices. She had originally been studying a scientific curriculum as she believed this would give her the best opportunity for a respectable, well-paid career. However, with the support of the staff at DACA she realised she should pursue the area that she was so passionate about and focus on studying art and a creative curriculum instead.

 “The academy was extremely supportive and reassured me that the change of A-levels would be smooth and that it wouldn’t impact on my learning negatively. As such I felt comfortable when making a daunting change in my career path after completing my AS Levels.”

For this risk of a late change of A-level choices to pay off, Khushna needed to display huge determination so that she could achieve her goal of studying art at one of the best creative universities or institutions. To be ready to submit her portfolio to the universities of her choice, Khushna had only a very small amount of time in which to catch-up on the workload, which she did through after-school sessions. Her risk-taking, passion and determination all paid off when she was offered her place at the Ruskin School of Art, Oxford University.

“Most definitely, the concept and practice of creativity, social conscience, passion and determination have been an integral part of developing my confidence throughout university life and beyond.”

The BP Portrait Award 2017 represents the very best in contemporary portrait painting. From informal and personal studies of friends and family to revealing images of famous faces, the exhibition always features a variety of styles and approaches to the contemporary painted portrait.

Khushna’s painting ‘Society’ is her snapshot of modern life and culture, full of pressures, and suggests tension from posing a series of open ended questions.  “Tension comes from the make-up of society, the categories and expectations it sets. I wanted to create stiffness and vulnerability in the painting; I used a variety of compositional techniques to achieve this. I wanted to leave a chair empty. It’s obvious to me that it’s my seat because it’s ripped and covered in paint. But it’s also an open invitation for the viewer to subconsciously participate” she says.

The sitters in the portrait were all fellow students at Oxford University. ‘Not all of the sitters knew each other prior to the sitting.  I intentionally chose people who had different types of relationships, some knew each other really well and were good friends, some were acquaintances and some had never met each other at all. I wanted to explore the vulnerability of being exposed in front of stranger.  I believe that this translated very well into the painting and created ambiguity and suspense in the characters and intrigue into their relationship, or lack of.’ She explains.

The award ceremony took place on 20th June 2017 but if you attend the exhibition you will be able to cast your vote in the Visitors Choice Award which is still open. We are so proud that her talent is being recognised and have no doubt that this is just the first of many successes. Her work will be on display at the National Portrait Gallery until the 24th September 2017 and admission is free to the exhibition. Click here to find out more



When it comes to Khushna’s plans for the future, things are not slowing down any time soon. She is currently completing a number of commissioned paintings, building on her portfolio, and plans to apply to study a Masters in Fine Art within the next two years. We look forward to seeing more brilliant accomplishments from Khushna in the near future! If you are interested in commissioning a piece of artwork, you can find out more about Khushna and contact her via her website:

Aldridge Entrepreneurship and Education News archive