Rediscovering Black Portraiture
August 12, 2020 4:16 PM   Subscribe

British operatic baritone Peter Brathwaite has created (so far) 76 tributes to historical depictions of Black people, inspired by the #gettychallenge. The original portraits span the centuries from a man holding onto the letter I in a 1241 copy of the Domesday Book to Kehinde Wiley's verdant portrait of President Obama.

Some objects recur in several portraits: notably a patchwork quilt by Brathwaite's grandmother and his grandfather's cou cou stick, a long flat wooden spoon used for stirring Barbadian cou cou.

Brathwaite's work has been featured in the Getty's blog The Iris. Interviews with him about the project can be seen on TRT's Newsfeed and heard on Dress: Fancy podcast, and will be part of the upcoming Getty Challenge book.

A few faves: (links are to Brathwaite's Twitter, where each work has a mini-thread providing context)

Abraham Cresques: Mansa Musa (1375). Detail from the Catalan Atlas. On a page of trade routes sits a West African king holding a golden coin. Reworked with bathrobe, broom and red wool.

Conrad Kyeser: The Queen of Sheba. From manuscript “Bellifortis" (c.1402). She wears a luxurious gown with bells hanging from the waist. Reworked with lemons, grapefruit, fairy lights and tissue paper.

Anon: Retable with the Virgin and Saints (c.1510). Detail from Adoration of the Magi. Balthasar presents his gift in a splendidly mounted ox horn. Reworked with Santa hat, loo roll and Barbados rum.

Anon: John Blanke [from Westminster Tournament Roll], (1511). Royal trumpeter for Henry VII and Henry VIII. Reworked with upside down trumpet, clothes horse and West African print.

Basset: Moi Libre [I am free] (1794). A free man holds a tropical fruit to signal his work and location in a French Caribbean colony. Reworked with Côte d’Ivoire print, spirit level, and Pink Lady.

Alexandre François Girardin: Toussaint L'Ouverture (1805). General and best-known leader of the Haitian Revolution. Reworked with duster, Stanley window scraper and Marigold glove.

John Thomas Smith: Joseph Johnson (1815). Reworked with cardboard, mop and Afro print flag. Johnson was an ex-seaman street singer in London. He built and wore a model of the ship Nelson on his head.

Isaac Belisario: Koo, Koo, or Actor-Boy (1836). A street performer wears an elaborate carnival costume or dress, while holding a fan. Reworked with map of the Caribbean, granny’s quilt, disco lights and cou cou stick.

H. L. Stephens: Man reading headline, “Presidential Proclamation, Slavery”(1863). Referring to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Reworked reading Peggy’s manumission papers (my great granny x4).

Thomas S. Smith: The Pipe of Freedom (1869). A free man stands where a slave sale notice has been partially covered by an abolition notice. Reworked with incense from mum, granny’s quilt and family slavery records.
posted by Pallas Athena (11 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
This is phenomenal, holy crap.
posted by Kitchen Witch at 4:37 PM on August 12, 2020

Holy heck indeed.

(I'm a little confused about Kerry James Marshall: A Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of His Former Self - argh, what a drag, no way to link to the individual images - I can see Brathwaite in all the others, but in this one, is he behind a mask? I'm curious - )

And today I have learned about Windrush Day.

I really, really like seeing what he's found around the house to recreate the various artworks.

Brathwaite seems to be up to a LOT of interesting things, based on a quick poke around his site.

I just love this. This is the coolest thing I've seen in a long while.

Thank you so much for posting it, Pallas Athena!
posted by kristi at 4:45 PM on August 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

This is a delight and totally my jam. Peter Brathwaite takes the Getty Challenge to a whole new level! The attention to detail is incredible and the lighting is perfect. My favorite is Jaspar Beckx: Portrait of Don Miguel de Castro, Emissary of Congo (1643). Dressed in accordance with Portuguese fashion. Reworked with West African fabric, cream crackers and serving spoon. CREAM CRACKERS! It's perfect.

I hope the Getty will produce a big, fat, heavy, fancy coffee table book with all the best submissions. Peter Brathwaite will deserve a chapter all to himself! Brilliant, thanks for this great post!!
posted by pjsky at 4:49 PM on August 12, 2020 [3 favorites]

Yeah, this is amazing!
posted by snofoam at 6:04 PM on August 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Toussaint L'Ouverture with vacuum is delightful
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:52 PM on August 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

these have been delighting me for weeks now. I particularly appreciate his notes for context.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 6:54 PM on August 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Wow. These are beautiful and thought-provoking. I'd love to see these in large format in a museum or gallery so I could sit in front of each one for a while and take it in.
posted by Lexica at 6:55 PM on August 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Terrific post!

Lexica (and non-Twitterers), the portraits are also at his website on this page - click for captions.
posted by Iris Gambol at 6:58 PM on August 12, 2020

Too much amusement. What a creative guy. He looks like he's having as much fun posing as we viewers have seeing him at play.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:56 PM on August 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

This is amazing!
posted by mumimor at 8:40 AM on August 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

These are wonderful! I love how he's used so many bits of his own family's history in among the household bric-a-brac, giving all the images extra depth. The Getty challenge thing seems to have started as just a bit of fun for lockdown, but he's taken it to a whole extra level.
posted by Fuchsoid at 2:22 AM on August 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

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