Posts Tagged ‘British Empire

01
Jul
17

Review: ‘Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy’ at Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 27th April – 8th July 2017

This project has been supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria

 

PLEASE NOTE: I am still recovering from my hand operation which is going to take longer than expected. All of the text has been constructed using a dictation programme and corrected using only my right hand – a tedious process. I have to keep my mental faculties together, otherwise this hand will drive me to distraction… Marcus

 

Christian Thompson. 'Black gum 1-3' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Black gum 1-3
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
C-type prints
Collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

Christian Thompson. 'Black gum 1' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Black gum 1
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
C-type print
Collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Christian Thompson. 'Black gum 2' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Black gum 2
C-type print
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
Collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

“While I’m interested in portraiture – I don’t consider my work as portraiture because that suggests that I’m trying to portray myself, my own visage, my own image. I employ images, icons, materials, metaphors to capture and idea and moment in time. There are many different things at play; taking a picture of myself is really the last thing that’s on my mind.”

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Christian Thompson in conversation with Hetti Perkins, catalogue extract

 

“I’m interested in simple aesthetic gestures that can say something … something quite profound about the world that we live in. I tend to build images how I create a sculpture. I borrow from the world around me.”

On being away from home: “You’re able to remove yourself from the local discourse, and romanticise home. When you’re displaced you tend to gravitate towards certain memories … But this is who I am. It would be weird not to express that somehow. I combine memories of my past with my lived experience and an idea of where I’d like to be … it’s all montaged into one.”

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Christian Thompson

 

“But Thompson makes things up. His ‘We bury our own’ does not let us see the early daguerreotype but improvises a series of fugues on its spiritual essence. This is the crucial step that Thompson has taken: if you repeat the spectacle you cannot escape the past. But if you, a spiritual descendant, transmogrify yourself in keeping with the aura of the image’s subject, during the prolonged period of encounter and immersion, you can ‘repatriate’ that forebear. Or so he desires.”

“Through these conjurings of the language his people spoke before colonisation set out to strip them of their culture as well as their land, Christian Thompson performs private ceremonies – to reach beyond visual statements of personal presence and reawaken the knowledge of his forebears, and allow us, his listeners and viewers, into their living story.”

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Marina Warner. “Magical Aesthetics,” extracts from the catalogue essay

 

 

Still singing, still Dreaming,
still loving… not dying.

This is a strong survey exhibition of the work of contemporary Australian Indigenous artist and Bidjara man exploring the world, Christian Thompson. As with any survey exhibition, it can only give us a glimpse into the long standing development of the artist’s work, inviting the viewer to then research more fully the themes, conceptual acts and bodies (of work) that have led the artist to this point in his artistic development. Having said that the exhibition, together with its insightful catalogue essays and additional images that do not appear in the exhibition, allow the viewer to be challenged intellectually, aesthetically and most importantly … spiritually. And to be somewhat conflicted by the art as well, it has to be said.

Thompson’s “multidisciplinary practice explores notions of cultural hybridity, along with identity and history, creating works that transcend cultural boundaries.” His self-reflexive and self-referential bodies of work, often with the artist using his body as an “armature for his characters, costumes and various props,” are intuitive and imaginative in how they relate Aboriginal and Australian/European history, taking past time into present time which influences future time. Time, memory, history, space, landscape are conflated into one point, enunciated through acts of ritual intimacy. These ritual intimacies, these performative acts, are enabled through an understanding of a regularised and constrained repetition of norms (in this case, the declarative power of colonialism), where the taking of a photograph of an Aboriginal person (for example), is “a ritual reiterated under and through constraint, under and through the force of prohibition and taboo, with the threat of ostracism and even death controlling and compelling the shape of the production…” (Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter. New York: Routledge, 1993, p. 95).

What is so heartening to see in this exhibition is a contemporary Indigenous artist not relying on re-animating colonial images of past injustices, but re-imagining these images to produce a spiritual connection to Country, to place, to people in the present moment. As Charlotte Day, Director, MUMA and Hetti Perkins, guest curator observe in the wall text at the beginning of the exhibition, “Rather than appropriating or restaging problematic ethnographic images of indigenous ancestors held in the Museum’s photographic collection, Thompson has chosen to spend significant periods of time with these images, absorbing their ‘aura’ and developing a personal artistic and deferential response that is decisively empowered.” As Marina Warner states in her excellent catalogue essay “Magical Aesthetics”, these ritual intimacies are a “magical re-animation and adopt time-honoured processes of making holy – of hallowing. Adornment is central to ritual and a prime way of glorifying and consecration.” What Thompson is doing is not quoting but translating the source-text into new material. As Mary Jacobus notes of the work of the painter Cy Twombly, “Quotation involves the repurposing of an existing text: translation requires a swerve from the source-text as it finds new directions and enters unknown terrain.” (Mary Jacobus. Reading Cy Twombly: Poetry in Paint.  Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2016, p. 7).

This auto-ethnographic exploration and adornment leads to a deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation of time in a heterotopic space, juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several sites of contestation – Thompson’s travels and research from around the world, the embodiment in his own culture and that of contemporary Australia, pop culture, fashion, music and language – where, as Hetti Perkins says, “the unknowable is a lovely thing” and where Thompson can affect and influence “the Zeitgeist through more subversive means.” These spaces of ritualised production overlaid with memory, imagination, desire, and nostalgia, these fragmented images, become a process and a performance in which Thompson seeks to ameliorate the objects aura through a process of ‘spiritual repatriation’. Thompson’s performativity is where the ritual of production and meaning is never fully predetermined at any stage of production and reception.

Here, in terms of ‘aura’ and ‘spirit’, I am interested in the word “repatriation”. Repatriation means to send (someone) back to their own country – from the verb repatriare, from re- ‘back’ + Latin patria ‘native land’. It has an etymological link to the word “patriot” – from late Latin patriota ‘fellow countryman’, from Greek patriōtēs, from patrios ‘of one’s fathers’, from patris ‘fatherland’ – and all the imperial connotations that are associated with the word. So, to send someone back (against their own will? by force?) or to be patriotic, as belonging to or coming from, the fatherland. A land that is father, farther away. Therefore, it is with regard to a centralised, monolithic body and its materialities (for the body is usually centrally placed in Thompson’s work) in Thompson’s instinctive works, that relations of discourse and power will always produce hierarchies and overlappings which are going to be contested. As Judith Butler notes,

“That each of those categories [body and materiality] have a history and a historicity, that each of them is constituted through the boundary lines that distinguish them and, hence, by what they exclude, that relations of discourse and power produce hierarchies and overlappings among them and challenge those boundaries, implies that these are both persistent and contested regions.” (Judith Butler. Bodies That Matter. New York: Routledge, 1993, pp. 66-67)

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Thus performativity is the power of discourse, the politicisation of abjection, and the ritual of being.

This is where I become conflicted by much of this work. Intellectually and conceptually I fully understand the instinctive, intuitive elements behind the work (crystals, flowers, maps, butterflies, dreams) but aesthetically I feel little ‘aura’ emanating from the photographs. Thompson’s “peripatetic life and your bowerbird, magpie-like fascination” (p. 107) lead to all sorts of influences emerging in the work – orange from The Netherlands, Morris dancers from England, Jewish heritage, Aboriginal and Australian heritage, fashion, pop culture, music, language – all evidenced through “acts of concealment in his self-portraits.” (p. 75). Now there’s the rub!

In Thompson’s ritual intimacies the intimacy is performed only once, for the camera. It is not didactic, but it is interior and hidden, leaving much to the feelings of the viewer, looking. The re-presentation of that intimacy is performed by the viewer every time they look at the art. I think of the work of one of my favourite performance artists, Claude Cahun, where the artist inhabits her personas, adorning her androgynous face with costume after costume to become something that she wants to become – a buddha, a double, a harpy, a lunatic or a doll with equal ease. Cahun is always and emphatically herself, undermining a certain authority… and she produces indelible images that sear the mind.

I don’t get that from Thompson. I don’t know who he really is. Does it matter? Yes it does. In supposedly his most autobiographic work (according to Hetti Perkins), the video Heat (2010, below) the work emerges out of Thompson’s memories of growing up in the desert surrounding Barcaldine in central west Queensland where “heat captures the sensation that he associates with being on his country: the dry wind blowing through his hair.” Perhaps for him or someone from the desert country like Hetti Perkins (as she states in the catalogue), but not for me. I feel no ‘heat’ from these three beautiful woman standing in a contextless background with a wind machine blowing their hair. The only ‘heat’ I felt was perhaps the metaphoric heat of colonisation, violence and abuse thrust on a vulnerable culture.

Talking of vulnerable cultures, in the work Polari (2014, below) Thompson invokes the history of languages in an intimate ritual “as he seeks to reanimate and repossess vanishing knowledge. Polari is a private language … a kind of code used by sailors, circus and fairground folk, and in gay circles. … Thompson’s Polari series warns us that the artist has a language of his own, which we can overhear but not fully understand: something is withheld, in contrast to the imposed and implacable exposure which the subjects of scientific collections were made to suffer in the past.” (Warner, p. 74) But why is he using Polari specifically, a language that is strongly associated with the libertine gay culture of the 1950s-70s? Does he have a right to use this word and its linguistic heritage because he is gay? It is never stated, again another thing left hidden, concealed and unresolved.

Although no culture can ever fully own its language (language is a construct after all) … if Thompson is not gay, then I would take exception to his invoking the Polari language, just as an Indigenous artist would take exception to me using Bidjara language in an art work of my own. I remember coming out in London in 1975 and speaking Polari myself when it was still being used in pubs and clubs such as the A + B club in Soho. It was not being used as a language of resistance, far from it, but as a language of desire. It was a language used to inculcate that desire. As a video on YouTube observes of speaking Polari, “you didn’t think, oh God I’m so oppressed I can never speak about myself, you just did it, you just slipped into it without thinking.” It was your own language, like a comfortable pair of slippers. Does Thompson understand how using that word to title a body of work could be as offensive to some people as he finds the denaturing of his own culture? For me this is where the work really becomes problematic, when an artist does not enunciate these connections, where things, like sexuality, remain hidden. Similarly, with historical photographs of Indigenous people taken for ethnographic study, Thompson fails to acknowledge the work of academics such as Jane Lydon and her important books Eye Contact: Photographing Indigenous Australians (2005) and Photography, Humanitarianism, Empire (2016) where she unpacks the historical baggage of the images and notes that the photographs were not solely a tool of colonial exploitation. Lydon articulates an understanding in Eye Contact that the residents of Coranderrk, an Aboriginal settlement near Healsville, Melbourne, “had a sophisticated understanding of how they were portrayed, and they became adept at manipulating their representations.” Again, there is more than meets the eye, more than just ‘spiritual repatriation’ of aura.

For me, the magic of this exhibition arrives when Thompson lets go all obfuscation, let’s go all actions that make something obscure, unclear, or unintelligible. Where his ritual intimacies become grounded in language, earth and spirit. This happens in the video works, Desert slippers (2006, below), Refuge (2014, below), Gamu Mambu (Blood Song) (2011) and Dhagunyilangu (Brother) (2011, below). In these videos, the Other’s gaze disintegrates and we are left with poignant, heart felt words and actions that engage history, emotion, family and Country.

The video Desert slippers “features a Bidjara ritual in which a father and son transfer sweat. The desert slipper is a native cactus that symbolises the transferal of the spirit back to earth as the plant grows.” It is simple, eloquent, powerful, present. The other videos feature two baroque singers from Europe and Thompson singing in his native tongue Bidjara (Bidyara, Pitjara), a language that Wikipedia states “is an extinct Australian Aboriginal language. In 1980 it was spoken by twenty elders in Queensland, between Tambo and Augathella, Warrego and Langlo rivers.” Spelt out in black and white. Extinct. To hear Thompson sing a berceuse (French, from bercer ‘to rock’), or lullaby in his native language, a language taught to him by his father, is the most emotional of experiences. The work “combines evocative chanting and electronic elements to invoke the cultural experiences and narratives of his Bidjara culture,” and “is premised on the notion that if one word of Bidjara is spoken, or sung in this case, it remains a living language.” Amen to that.

This is the real hallowing, not the dress ups or the concealments. It is in these videos that the raw material of his and his cultures experience is transmuted into living, breathing stories, in an alchemical transmutation, a magical re-animation of past time into present and future time. My transfiguration into a more spiritual state was complete when listening in quiet contemplation. For I was given, if only for a very brief moment, access to the pain of our first peoples and a vision of hope for their future healing.

Still singing, still Dreaming,
still loving… and certainly not dying.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

Word count: 2,053

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Many thankx to MUMA for allowing me to publish the photographs and videos in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“At the heart of my practice is a concern with aura: what it is, how it can be photographed and how it can be repatriated.”

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Christian Thompson

 

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

Christian Thompson. 'Untitled #6' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Untitled #6
2010
From the series King Billy
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring stills from the video Berceuse (2017)

 

 

Christian Thompson
Berceuse (extract installation view)
2017
Three-channel digital colour video, sound
5.47 minutes
Sound design: Duane Morrison

 

 

Christian Thompson
Berceuse
2017
Three-channel digital colour video, sound
5.47 minutes
Sound design: Duane Morrison

 

 

In this newly commissioned work, Thompson sings a berceuse – a cradle song or lullaby – that combines evocative chanting and electronic elements to invoke the cultural experiences and narratives of his Bidjara culture. Intended as a gesture of re-imagining his traditional Bidjara language, which is been categorised as extinct, the work is premised on the notion that if one word of Bidjara is spoken, or sung in this case, it remains a living language.

Thompson makes subtle reference to his maternal Sephardic Jewish roots by ruminating in this work on the lullaby Nani Nani:

 

Lullaby, lullaby
The boy wants a lullaby,
The mother’s son,
Who although small will grow.

Oh, oh my lady open,
Open the door,
I come home tired,
From ploughing the fields.

Oh, I won’t open them,
You don’t come home tired,
You’ve just come back,
From seeing your new lover.

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring the series Museum of Others (2016)

 

Installation view of 'Museum of Others (Othering the Ethnologist, Augustus Pitt Rivers)' 2016

 

Installation view of Museum of Others (Othering the Ethnologist, Augustus Pitt Rivers) 2016

 

Christian Thompson. 'Museum of Others (Othering the Anthropologist, Walter Baldwin Spencer)' 2016

 

Christian Thompson
Museum of Others (Othering the Anthropologist, Walter Baldwin Spencer)
2016
From the series Museum of Others
C-type print

 

Installation view of 'Museum of Others (Othering the Explorer, James Cook)' 2016

 

Installation view of Museum of Others (Othering the Explorer, James Cook) 2016

 

Christian Thompson. 'Othering the Explorer, James Cook' 2016

 

Christian Thompson
Museum of Others (Othering the Explorer, James Cook)
2016
From the series Museum of Others
C-type print

 

Christian Thompson. 'Equilibrium' 2016

 

Christian Thompson
Equilibrium
2016
From the series Museum of Others
C-type print

 

 

Museum of others is Thompson’s most recent photographic series and continues to reflect on his time at the University of Oxford. It features several ‘dead white males’ from the pantheon of British and Australian culture. The explorer, the ethnologist and the anthropologist all had roles in the process of colonisation in Australia but the art critic is particular to Thompson; Ruskin was the first Slade Professor of Fine Art at University of Oxford, just as Thompson was one of its first Australian Aboriginal students. Thompson explains his motivation for the series:

“Historically, it was the western gaze that was projected onto the ethnic other and I thought I’ll create a ‘museum of others’ and I’ll be the one othering, so to speak. ‘Equilibrium’ is based around the idea that the vessel is the equaliser. The vessel is the cradle of all civilisations. We all have that in common.”

Wall text from the exhibition

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring photographs from the series We bury our own 2010 (C-type prints)
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

 

We bury our own is a body of work that was developed in response to the historic collection of photography, featuring Aboriginal people from the late nineteenth century, at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. Thompson noted in 2012 that these early images “have permeated my work over the last year. They have remained at the forefront of every artistic experiment and they have pushed me into new territory, they have travelled with me… I was drawn to elements of opulence, ritual, homage, fragility, melancholy, strength and even a sense of play operating in the photographs…”

Each of Thompson’s lyrical photographic images from We bury our own and Pagan sun feature himself partially disguised with props and costumes. The works are virtually monochromatic with elements highlighted in full colour, and his eyes, or face, are partially concealed or painted. The use of votive objects is explained in his equally lyrical 2012 statement: “I lamented the passing of the flowers at the meadow, I lit candles and offered blood to the ancestral beings, looked into the black sparkling sea, donned the Oxford garb, visited the water by fire light and bowed at the knees of the old father ghost gum.”

Text from the Turner Galleries website

 

Christian Thompson. 'Energy Matter' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Energy Matter
2010
From the series We bury our own
C-type print

 

Christian Thompson. 'Lamenting the flowers' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Lamenting the flowers
2010
From the series We bury our own
C-type print

 

Christian Thompson. 'Forgiveness of Land' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Forgiveness of Land
2010
From the series We bury our own
C-type print

 

Christian Thompson. 'Down Under World' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Down Under World
2010
From the series We bury our own
C-type print

 

 

“I conceived the We Bury Our Own series in 2010 after curator Christopher Morton invited me to develop a body of work that would be inspired by and in dialogue with the Australian photographic collection at the Pitt Rivers Museum…

The archival images have permeated my work over the last year. They have remained at the forefront of every artistic experiment and pushed me into new territory; they have travelled with me to residencies at the Fonderie Darling in Montreal and Greene Street Studio, New York. I was drawn to elements of opulence, ritual, homage, fragility, melancholy, strength and even a sense of play operating in the photographs. The simplicity of a monochrome and sepia palette, the frayed delicate edges and the cracks on the surface like a dry desert floor that reminded me of the salt plains of my own traditional lands.

I wanted to generate an aura around this series, a meditative space that was focused on freeing oneself of hurt, employing crystals and other votive objects that emit frequencies that can heal, ward off negative energies, psychic attack, geopathic stress and electro magnetic fields, and, importantly, transmit ideas.

I lamented the passing of the flowers at the meadow, I lit candles and offered blood to the ancestral beings, looked into the black sparkling sea, donned the Oxford garb, visited the water by fire light and bowed at the knees of the old father ghost gum. I asked the photographs in the Pitt Rivers Museum to be catalysts and waited patiently to see what ideas and images would surface in the work, I think with surprising results. Perhaps this is what art is able to do, perform a ‘spiritual repatriation’ rather than a physical one, fragment the historical narrative and traverse time and place to establish a new realm in the cosmos, set something free, allow it to embody the past and be intrinsically connected to the present?

I heard a story many years ago from some old men, they told me about a ceremony where young warriors would make incisions through the flesh exposing the joints, they would insert gems between the bones to emulate the creator spirits, often enduring infection and agonizing pain or resulting in death. The story has stuck with me for many years, one that suggests immense pain fused with intoxicating beauty. The idea of aspiring to embody the creators, to transgress the physical body by offering to our gods our spiritual heart, freeing ourselves of suffering by inducing a kind of excruciating decadent torture. This was something that played on my mind during the production of this series of photos and video work. The deliverance of the spirit back to land – the notion that art could be the vehicle for such a passage, the aspiration to occupy a space that belongs to something higher than one’s physical self.”

Christian Thompson

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring Ship of dreams, Ancient bloom, Death’s second self, and Gods and kings from the series Imperial relic 2015 (C-type prints) and a still from the video dead tongue 2015
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

 

In Dead tongue Thompson continues to interrogate the implications of England’s empirical quest on the former colonies of the British Empire through the threat to or loss of Indigenous languages. In works such as this, Thompson actively challenges the perception that Aboriginal culture has become reduced to a captured trophy of Empire.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring Ship of dreams, Ancient bloom, Death’s second self, and Gods and kings from the series Imperial relic 2015 (C-type prints)
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

 

In … Imperial relic, he continues to use himself as the ‘armature for his characters, costumes and various props’. Drawing on his background in sculpture, he has created ‘wearable sculptures’ including a trumpet shaped shirt collar, an eruption of white flowers from a union jack hoodie, and an armature of maps. In each his face is partially or fully obscured again. “I’m interested in ideas of submission and domination,” he says. “So the trumpet headpiece is beautiful, but it also potentially muffles or silences the voice. The same thing with maps: they are purporting different kinds of historical narrative, depending who is telling the story. One is about the history of Indigenous people, one is about the history of white colonisers and then one is about the idea of charting the land and of discovery. I’m wearing it as an armature over my own body: that’s part of my own history but also of Australian history.”

Text from the Turner Galleries website

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ancient bloom' 2015

 

Christian Thompson
Ancient bloom
2015
From the series Imperial relic
C-type print on fuji pearl metallic paper
100 x 100 cm
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ship of dreams' 2015

 

Christian Thompson
Ship of dreams
2015
From the series Imperial relic
C-type print on fuji pearl metallic paper
100 x 100 cm
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

 

The series title Imperial relic, summarises the fundamental philosophy underpinning the colonial occupation of Australia. Like the nearby series We bury our own, it is closely connected to Thompson’s studies in the collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum and shares with the Australian graffiti series Thomson’s physical presence is standing in for the Australian landscape.

The work Ancient bloom alludes to the phonograph horn out which might be heard the voice of Fanny Cochran Smith, who’s wax cylinder recordings of songs are the only historical audio recordings of any of the Tasmanian Aboriginal languages. Is also represents a Victorian-era shirt collar – a motif that has appeared in Thompson’s work since his Emotional striptease series of 2003 – but here is exaggerated into a soft-sculptural form that both projects and stifles the voice.

In Death’s second self the artist’s face is uncovered but distorted by make up and digital postproduction effects.The title quotes William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73:

As after sunset fadeth in the west, 
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.

In God and Kings Thompson is cloaked with a map of Aboriginal language groups like a coat of armour. In the Ship of dreams he reprises the motif of Australian flora obscuring his face but here his hoodie is stitched together from several flags: the red ensign (flown by British registered ships), the RAAF flag and the Australian flag.

 

“I’m interested in ideas of submission and domination … So the trumpet headpiece is beautiful, but it also potentially muffles or silences the voice. The same thing with maps: they are purporting different kinds of historical narrative, depending who is telling the story. One is about the history of Indigenous people, one is about the history of white colonisers and then one is about the idea of charting the land and of discovery. I’m wearing it as an armature over my own body: that’s part of my own history but also of Australian history.”

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Christian Thompson

 

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring Isabella kept her dignity, I’m not going anywhere without you, Dead as a door nail and Hannah’s diary from the series Lost together 2009 (C-type prints)
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

 

On 13 February 2008 then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made an official apology to Aboriginal Australians for the Stolen Generations – the children of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent who were removed from their families between 1910 and 1970 under the respective Federal and State government policies of assimilation. At the time, Thompson was preparing to leave Australia for further studies aboard and felt this historic gesture allowed him to proudly take his culture and history with him as he ventured into the world.

Thompson photographed the series Lost together in the Netherlands while studying at the DasArts Academy of Theatre and Dance at Amsterdam University. The theme of the orange throughout the series is a reference to the national colour of the Netherlands, while the tartan patterning refers to early clan societies in the United Kingdom. The combination of these different styles is based on counter-cultural aesthetics – particularly punk collage of 1970s London.

 

Christian Thompson. 'Hannah's Diary' 2009

 

Christian Thompson
Hannah’s Diary
2009
From the series Lost Together
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

 

MUMA | Monash University Museum of Art is proud to announce the first major survey exhibition of the work of Bidjara artist, Christian Thompson, one of Australia’s leading and most intriguing contemporary artists.

Thompson works across photography, video, sculpture, performance and sound, interweaving themes of identity, race and history with his lived experience. His work is held in the collections of major state and national art museums in Australia and internationally.

Thompson made history as one of the first two Aboriginal Australians to be accepted into the University of Oxford as a Charlie Perkins Scholar, where he completed his Doctorate of Philosophy (Fine Art) in 2016. Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy opens as the artist looks forward to the graduation ceremony in July, when he will be conferred his degree.

Featuring a major new commission created for this exhibition, Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy will survey Thompson’s diverse practice, spanning fifteen years, and will also be accompanied by the publication of the first monograph on the artist’s career and work, including essays by Brian Catling RA and Professor Dame Marina Warner DBE, CBE, FBA, FRSL.

The specially commissioned installation will be an ambitious multichannel composition, developing the sonic experimentation that is a signature of Thompson’s work. Incorporating Bidjara language, it will invite viewers into an immersive space of wall-to-wall imagery and sound:

“Bidjara is officially an endangered language but my work is motivated by the simple yet profound idea that if even one word of an endangered language is spoken it continues to be a living language,” Thompson says.

Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy explores the unique perspective and breadth of Thompson’s practice from the fashioning of identity through to his ongoing interest in Indigenous language as the expression of cultural survival. The new multichannel work will develop musical ideas Thompson has previously explored.

“It will be a much more ambitious iteration of a song in Bidjara. At one stage I’m singing on one screen and then other versions of me appear singing the melodies. I really see it as an opportunity to do something that’s more complex musically, more textured sonically – I also want it to be more intricate with my use of language,” the artist says.

Ritual Intimacy is curated by MUMA director Charlotte Day and guest curator Hetti Perkins. Day explains that the exhibition is part of MUMA’s Australian artist series, which affords the opportunity to look at each artist’s practice in depth. “Christian’s exhibition traces a particularly productive period of research and development, from early well-known works such as the Australian Graffiti series to more recent experiments with language in sound and song works,” Day says.

A long-time curatorial collaborator with Thompson, Perkins is the writer and presenter of art + soul, the ABC’s acclaimed television series about contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art. Thompson was accepted to Oxford University on an inaugural Charlie Perkins Scholarship, set up to honour Hetti Perkins’s famous father – a leader, activist and the first Aboriginal Australian to graduate from university. Perkins says the MUMA exhibition is well-earned recognition for Thompson’s work, which she featured in the second series of art + soul.

“Christian has spent periods of his adult life, as a practicing artist, away from home, but there is a common thread in his work, and it’s this connection to home or Country,” Perkins says. “In terms of the rituals or rites of the exhibition title, he is constantly reiterating that connection to home – through words, through performance, through his art, through ideas and writing,” she says.

Alongside performance and ritual, Thompson’s concept of “spiritual repatriation” is central to his work. Working with the Australian collection at famed ethnographic storehouse the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, the artist was offered copies of colonial photographs of Aboriginal people but preferred not to work this way. Instead, he chose to spend significant periods of time with these ancestral images, absorbing their “aura” in order to then make his own artistic response that did not reproduce those original problematic images.

Dr Christian Thompson is a Bidjara contemporary artist whose work explores notions of identity, cultural hybridity, and history; often referring to the relationships between these concepts and the environment. Formally trained as a sculptor, Thompson’s multidisciplinary practice engages mediums such as photography, video, sculpture, performance, and sound. His work focuses on the exploration of identity, sexuality, gender, race, and memory. In his live performances and conceptual anti-portraits he inhabits a range of personas achieved through handcrafted sculptures and carefully orchestrated poses and backdrops.

Press release from MUMA

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring the series Polari (2014)

 

 

‘Polari’ is a form of cant or cryptic slang that evolved over several centuries from the various languages that converged in London’s theatres, circuses and fairgrounds, the merchant navy and criminal circles. It came to be associated with gay subculture, as many gay men worked in theatrical entertainment or joined ocean liners as waiters, stewards and entertainers at a time when homosexual activity was illegal. This slang rendered the speaker unintelligible to hostile outsiders, such as policeman, but fell out of use after the Sexual Offences Act (1967) effectively decriminalised homosexuality in the United Kingdom. Attracted to the theatricality and defiant nature of Polari (which he likens to the situation of Australian Indigenous languages under assimilationist policies), Thompson borrowed its name for the series which examines how subcultures express themselves.

 

Christian Thompson. 'Siren' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Siren
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Trinity II' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Trinity II
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Trinity III' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Trinity III
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ariel' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Ariel
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ellipse' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Ellipse
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

 

Polari was a form of slang used by gay men in Britain prior to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967, used primarily as a coded way for them to discuss their experiences. It quickly fell out of use in the 70s, although several words entered mainstream English and are still used today. For more about Polari see Wikipedia.

 

 

Author and academic Paul Baker of Lancaster University discusses a form of gay slang known as Polari that was spoken in Britain. It was a secret type of language used mainly by gay men and some lesbians and members of the trans, drag and other communities in the United Kingdom in the 20th century until it largely died out by the early 1970s.

 

 

Christian Thompson
Refuge
2014
Video and sound
4 mins 18 secs

 

Refuge is a video work by contemporary Australian artist Christian Thompson. Thompson sings in the endangered Bidjara language of his heritage. A collaboration with James Young formerly of ‘Nico’ and recorded the original track in Oxford, United Kingdom.

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring stills from the video Heat (2010)

 

 

Christian Thompson
Heat (extract)
2010
Three-channel digital colour video, sound
5.52 minutes

 

 

Like the Australian graffiti photographs [see photographs below], Heat come out of Thompson’s memories of growing up in the desert surrounding Barcaldine in central west Queensland. Barcaldine is famous for its role in the foundation organised labor in Queensland and ultimately the formation of the Australian Labor Party. It also holds historical significance for Thompson’s family as it is where his great-great-grandfather, Charlie Thompson, surreptitiously bought a block of land before Aboriginal people could legally buy land, creating a safe haven for his family and other Aboriginal families at the time when Aboriginal people had few legal rights. For Thompson, heat captures the sensation that he associates with being on his country: the dry wind blowing through his hair. It features the three granddaughters of Aboriginal rights pioneer Charlie Perkins, who are the daughters of Thompson’s Long time collaborator Hetti Perkins.

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring photographs from the series Australian graffiti (2007)

 

Christian Thompson. 'Untitled (Blue Gum)' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Untitled (blue gum)
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Untitled (banksia)' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Untitled (banksia)
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
C-type print
Monash University Collection

 

 

Australian graffiti was the last work that Thompson made before leaving Australia for Europe. It connects with his memories of growing up in the outback and its desert flowers, which he perceives to be both fragile and immensely powerful. I adorning himself with garlands of these flowers and flamboyant garments of the 1980s and 1990s – the period in which he grew up – Thompson juxtaposes these elements against his own Bidjara masculinity. By wearing native flora he also stands in for the landscape, invoking an Indigenous understanding of the landscape as a corporeal, living ancestral being.

 

 

Christian Thompson
Desert slippers
2006
Single-channel digital colour video, sound
34 seconds

 

 

Desert slippers was made at the time the Northern Territory government commissioned research into allegations of the abuse of children in Aboriginal communities. When the ‘Little Children are Sacred’ report was tabled the following year, the federal government under John Howard staged the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER), which quickly became known as ‘the intervention’. This action was enacted without consultation with Indigenous people and ignored the substantive recommendations of the report to which it was allegedly responding.

Thompson made this video, involving his father, and the ceremonial aspects of their daily lives, during this period. Desert slippers features a Bidjara ritual in which a father and son transfer sweat. The desert slipper is a native cactus that symbolises the transferal of the spirit back to earth as the plant grows.

 

 

Christian Thompson
Dhagunyilangu (Brother) 
(extract installation view)
2011
Single-channel digital colour video, sound, subtitled
2.19 minutes

 

 

Christian Thompson
Dhagunyilangu (Brother)

2011
Single-channel digital colour video, sound, subtitled
2.19 minutes

 

 

Gamu Mambu (Blood Song) and Dhagunyilangu (Brother) were made in England and in the Netherlands respectively. While studying at the DasArts Academy of Theatre and Dance in Amsterdam, a centre for the study of early musical styles such as the baroque, Thompson realised that his own Bidjara language could be interpreted through the matrix of another cultural context and sphere. He undertook operatic training with this in mind, choosing in the end to work with specialist singers Sonja Gruys and Jeremy Vinogradov to realise the two works.

 

 

Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA)
Ground Floor, Building F,
Monash University Caulfield campus,
900 Dandenong Road,
Caulfield East, VIC 3145
T: 61 3 9905 4217

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Friday 10am – 5pm
Saturday 12 – 5pm

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05
Dec
16

Exhibition: ‘Black Chronicles: Photographic Portraits 1862-1948’ at the National Portrait Gallery, London

Exhibition dates: 18th May – 11th December 2016

 

Some of the earlier photographs in this posting from the 19th and early 20th century are bold and striking. They also make me feel incredibly sad.

Human beings subjugated, brought to Britain, displayed, exoticised and exhibited for the delectation of royalty and the white masses. Exiled to Britain never to see their homeland again except for a few brief, controlled visits; presented to Queen Victoria, as if a gift, from King Gezo of Dahomey; or made a servant of an explorer. And the fate of most of these people is disease, dis-ease, and an early death.

As documentary evidence, the photographs attest to the lives of the disenfranchised. They mark the lives of individual people as that most valuable thing, a human life. In this sense they are important. But I find this photographic documentation of Britain’s imperial history of empire and expansion quite repugnant, both morally and spiritually. Where the “Sir Johns” and “Sir Roberts” are named, but the pygmies are displayed anonymously all dressed up in Western attire: “Pygmies of Central Africa.”

As Caroline Molloy observes, while standing as testament to cultural diversity in the late 19th/early 20th century, “the historical colonial connotations of the photographic exhibition strategies used in the Expansion and Empire gallery cannot be ignored.” The taxonomic ordering of individual sitters identified by name, status, biography, by group portraits of racial type and status. Basically a white patriarchy in which a standard of male supremacism is enforced through a variety of cultural, political, and interpersonal strategies. Super/racism.

“Colonialism is the establishment of a colony in one territory by a political power from another territory, and the subsequent maintenance, expansion, and exploitation of that colony. The term is also used to describe a set of unequal relationships between the colonial powerand the colony and often between the colonists and the indigenous peoples.” (Wikipedia)

Unequal relationships; exploitation; and the probing gaze of the camera to document it all.

Marcus

PS George Hurrell’s photographs are a knockout!

.
Many thankx to the National Portrait Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

 

Sir (John) Benjamin Stone. 'Four Hausa Gun Carriers of the South Nigerian Regiment' 1902

 

Sir (John) Benjamin Stone
Four Hausa Gun Carriers of the South Nigerian Regiment
1902
Platinum print, 1902
6 1/8 in. x 8 in. (157 mm x 203 mm)
Given by House of Commons Library, 1974

 

 

The Southern Nigeria Regiment was a British colonial regiment which operated in Nigeria in the early part of the 20th century. The Regiment was formed out of the Niger Coast Protectorate Force and part of the Royal Niger Constabulary. The Lagos Battalion or Hausa Force was absorbed into the Regiment in May 1906 and became the Regiment’s second battalion. On 1 January 1914 the Southern Nigeria Regiment’s two battalions were merged with those of the Northern Nigeria Regiment to become simply the Nigeria Regiment.

 

Sir (John) Benjamin Stone. 'Sergeant and three Privates of the King's African Rifles' 1902

 

Sir (John) Benjamin Stone
Sergeant and three Privates of the King’s African Rifles
1902
Platinum print, 1902
6 1/8 in. x 8 in. (156 mm x 203 mm)
Given by House of Commons Library, 1974

 

 

The King’s African Rifles (KAR) was a multi-battalion British colonial regiment raised from Britain’s various possessions in British East Africa in the present-day African Great Lakes region from 1902 until independence in the 1960s. It performed both military and internal security functions within the colonial territory, and later served outside these territories during the World Wars. The rank and file (askaris) were drawn from native inhabitants, while most of the officers were seconded from the British Army. When the KAR was first raised there were some Sudanese officers in the battalions raised in Uganda, and native officers were commissioned towards the end of British colonial rule.

 

Sir (John) 'Benjamin Stone. 'Pygmies of Central Africa' 1905

 

Sir (John) Benjamin Stone
Pygmies of Central Africa
1905
Platinum print, 1905
6 1/8 in. x 8 in. (157 mm x 203 mm)
Given by House of Commons Library, 1974

 

 

Sir John Benjamin Stone (9 February 1838 – 2 July 1914), known as Benjamin, was a British Conservative politician, and noted photographer. …

He was a prolific amateur documentary photographer who travelled widely in pursuit of his hobby. He made 26,000 photographs and wrote books as he travelled to Spain, Norway, Japan and Brazil. Amongst his published works were A Summer Holiday in Spain (1873), Children of Norway (1882), and a fairy tale called The Traveller’s Joy. He also made an invaluable record of the folk customs and traditions of the British Isles, which influenced later photographers of note, including Homer Sykes, Daniel Meadows, Anna Fox and Tony Ray-Jones. Stone wrote of his purpose as being “to portray for the benefit of future generations the manners and customs, the festivals and pageants, the historic places and places of our times.”

Stone travelled with a scientific expedition to northern Brazil to see the 1893 total solar eclipse. Notable images taken by Stone include those of the deposition of governor José Clarindo de Queirós of the then province of Ceará in Brazil, in which he prevented the rebels from firing at the governor’s palace until he had taken photographs of them beside their guns.

The Benjamin Stone Photographic Collection housed in the Library of Birmingham contains many thousands of examples of his work. In 1897 he founded the National Photographic Record Association, of which he became president. The National Portrait Gallery holds 62 of his portraits and many photographs of people and places in and around Westminster. His amateur career culminated in 1911 with his appointment as official photographer to the coronation of King George V. He became president of the Birmingham Photographic Society, a Justice of the Peace, and a member of the Society of Antiquaries and of the Geological Society.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Sir (John) Benjamin Stone. 'African Pygmies in London (including William Hoffman)' 1905

 

Sir (John) Benjamin Stone
African Pygmies in London (including William Hoffman)
1905
Platinum print, 9 August 1905
8 in. x 6 1/8 in. (203 mm x 156 mm)
Given by House of Commons Library, 1974

 

 

“There’s nothing like a photograph for reminding you about difference. There it is. It stares you ineradicably in the face”

~ Professor Stuart Hall, 2008

.
Black Chronicles
 showcases over forty photographs that present a unique snapshot of black lives and experiences in nineteenth and early twentieth-century Britain. Developed in collaboration with Autograph ABP, this intervention in three gallery spaces includes some of the earliest photographs in the Gallery’s Collection alongside recently rediscovered photographs from the Hulton Archive, a division of Getty Images.

These portraits of individuals of African and Asian heritage bear witness to Britain’s imperial history of empire and expansion. They highlight an important and complex black presence in Britain before 1948, a watershed moment when the Empire Windrush brought the first large group of Caribbean immigrants to Britain. Research is ongoing and new information emerges continuously.

This display is part of Autograph ABP’s The Missing Chapter, an ongoing archive research programme supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Autograph ABP is a London-based arts charity that works internationally in photography and film, race, representation, cultural identity and human rights.

 

London Stereoscopic Company. 'Albert Jonas and John Xiniwe of the African Choir' 1891

 

London Stereoscopic Company
Albert Jonas and John Xiniwe of the African Choir
1891
Bromide print
Courtesy of © Hulton Archive/Getty Images

 

London Stereoscopic Company. 'A member of the African Choir' 1891

 

London Stereoscopic Company
A member of the African Choir
1891
Courtesy of © Hulton Archive/Getty Images

 

London Stereoscopic Company. 'Frances Gqoba, of the African Choir' 1891

 

London Stereoscopic Company
Frances Gqoba, of the African Choir
1891
Courtesy of © Hulton Archive/Getty Images

 

 

The African Choir were a group of young South African singers that toured Britain between 1891 and 1893. They were formed to raise funds for a Christian school in their home country and performed for Queen Victoria at Osborne House, a royal residence on the Isle of Wight. At some point during their stay, they visited the studio of the London Stereoscopic Company to have group and individual portraits made on plate-glass negatives.

Sean O’Hagan. “The black Victorians: astonishing portraits unseen for 120 years,” on the Guardian website 16 September 2014

 

London Stereoscopic Company. 'A member of the African Choir' 1891

 

London Stereoscopic Company
A member of the African Choir
1891
Courtesy of © Hulton Archive/Getty Images

 

London Stereoscopic Company. 'Eleanor Xiniwe, of the African Choir' 1891

 

London Stereoscopic Company
Eleanor Xiniwe, of the African Choir
1891
Courtesy of © Hulton Archive/Getty Images

 

Eleanor Xiniwe, a member of the African Choir who toured London from 1891 to 1893.

 

London Stereoscopic Company. 'Johanna Jonkers, of the African Choir' 1891

 

London Stereoscopic Company
Johanna Jonkers, of the African Choir
1891
Courtesy of © Hulton Archive/Getty Images

 

The Illustrated London News, August 29, 1891

 

The Illustrated London News, August 29, 1891

 

London Stereoscopic Company. 'Champion Jamaican Boxer Peter Jackson' 1889

 

London Stereoscopic Company
Champion Jamaican Boxer Peter Jackson
2 December 1889, London
Courtesy of © Hulton Archive/Getty Images

 

Peter Jackson, 2 December 1889, London. Born in 1860 in St Croix, then the Danish West Indies, Jackson was a boxing champion who spent long periods of time touring Europe. In England, he staged the famous fight against Jem Smith at the Pelican Club in 1889. In 1888 he claimed the title of Australian heavyweight champion.

 

London Stereoscopic Company. 'Major Musa Bhai' 3 November 1890

 

London Stereoscopic Company
Major Musa Bhai
3 November 1890
Courtesy of © Hulton Archive/Getty Images

 

Musa Bhai travelled to England in 1888 as part of the Booth family, who founded the Salvation Army.

 

 

“The National Portrait Gallery in partnership with Autograph ABP presents a unique ‘snapshot’ of black lives and experiences in Britain. An important display of photographs, which will reveal some of the stories of Black and Asian lives in Britain from the 1860s through to the 1940s, opens in May at the National Portrait Gallery. Black Chronicles: Photographic Portraits 1862-1948 will bring together some of the earliest photographs of Black and Asian sitters in the National Portrait Gallery’s Collection.

These will be exhibited alongside recently discovered images from the Hulton Archive, a division of Getty Images. The display of over 40 photographs will highlight an important and complex black presence in Britain before 1948, a watershed moment when the Empire Windrush brought the first group of Caribbean migrants to Great Britain. In addition, Black Chronicles: Photographic Portraits 1862-1948 will highlight new acquisitions including a series of portraits by Angus McBean, of Les Ballets Nègres, Britain’s first all-black ballet company and a selection of photographs of the pioneer of classical Indian dance in Britain, Pandit Ram Gopal, by George Hurrell.

Individuals with extraordinary stories, from performers to dignitaries, politicians and musicians, alongside unidentified sitters, will collectively reveal the diversity of representation within 19th and 20th century photography and British society, often absent from historical narratives of the period. They will include the celebrated portraits by Camille Silvy of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, one of the earliest photographic portraits of a black sitter in the Gallery’s Collection. Born in West Africa of Yoruba descent, Sarah was captured at the age of five during the Okeadon War. She was thought to be of royal lineage and was presented to Queen Victoria, as if a gift, from King Gezo of Dahomy. As Queen Victoria’s protégée, Sarah was raised among the British upper class and educated in both England and Sierra Leone. In 1862, she married the merchant and philanthropist James Pinson Labulo Davies.

Black Chronicles: Photographic Portraits 1862-1948 will also feature Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, a celebrated British composer of English and Sierra Leonean descent who was once called the ‘African Mahler’; Dadabhai Naoroji, the first British Indian MP for Finsbury in 1892; members of the African Choir, a troupe of entertainers from South Africa who performed for Queen Victoria in 1891; international boxing champion Peter Jackson a.k.a ‘The Black Prince’ from the island of St Croix; and Ndugu M’Hali (Kalulu), the ‘servant’ of British explorer Sir Henry Morton Stanley, who inspired Stanley’s 1873 book My Kalulu, Prince, King and Slave: A Story of Central Africa.

Black Chronicles: Photographic Portraits 1862-1948 will include original albumen cartes-de-visite and cabinet cards from the Gallery’s permanent Collection, presented alongside a series of large-scale modern prints from 19th century glass plates in the Hulton Archive’s London Stereoscopic Company collection, which were recently unearthed by Autograph ABP for the first time in 135 years and first shown in the critically acclaimed exhibition ‘Black Chronicles II’ at Rivington Place in 2014.

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director, National Portrait Gallery, London says: “We are delighted to have the opportunity to collaborate with Autograph ABP and present this important display – bringing together some of the earliest photographs from our Collection alongside new acquisitions and striking images from Hulton Archive’s London Stereoscopic Company collection.”

Renée Mussai, Curator and Head of Archive at Autograph ABP, says: “We are very pleased to share our ongoing research with new audiences at the National Portrait Gallery. The aim of the Black Chronicles series is to open up critical inquiry into the archive to locate new knowledge and support our mission to continuously expand and enrich photography’s cultural histories. Not only does the sitters’ visual presence in Britain bear direct witness to the complexities of colonial history, they also offer a fascinating array of personal narratives that defy pre-conceived notions of cultural diversity prior to the Second World War.”

Press release from the National Portrait Gallery

 

London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company. 'Sir Henry Morton Stanley; Kalulu (Ndugu M'hali)' 1872

 

London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company
Sir Henry Morton Stanley; Kalulu (Ndugu M’hali)
1872
Albumen carte-de-visite
3 1/2 in. x 2 1/2 in. (90 mm x 62 mm)
© National Portrait Gallery, London
Purchased, 1995

 

London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company. 'Sir Henry Morton Stanley; Kalulu (Ndugu M'hali)' 1872

 

London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company
Sir Henry Morton Stanley; Kalulu (Ndugu M’hali)
1872
Albumen carte-de-visite
3 1/2 in. x 2 1/2 in. (90 mm x 62 mm)
© National Portrait Gallery, London
Purchased, 1995

 

Ndugu M'hali, the African personal servant and later adopted son of explorer of Henry Morton Stanley

 

Ndugu M’hali, the African personal servant and later adopted son of explorer of Henry Morton Stanley

 

Henry Morris. 'Kalulu (Ndugu M'hali)' 1873

 

Henry Morris
Kalulu (Ndugu M’hali)
1873
Albumen carte-de-visite
3 5/8 in. x 2 3/8 in. (93 mm x 60 mm)
© National Portrait Gallery, London
Purchased, 1996

 

 

Ndugu M’Hali (c. 1865-77) was the personal servant to explorer and journalist Sir Henry Morton Stanley. As a slave he was given to Stanley by an Arab merchant in present day Tanzania during the explorer’s quest to find the missing Dr David Livingstone. Named ‘Kalulu’ by Stanley, he was educated in London and accompanied Stanley on his travels to Europe, America and the Seychelles. He died during an expedition in 1877 in the Lualaba River, the headstream of the River Congo, Stanley named these rapids ‘Kalulu Falls’ in his memory.

 

This man was brought to Britain with a Zulu troupe during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 and was part of explorer Guillermo Antonio Farini’s exhibition of 'Friendly Zulus' in London, 1879

 

Samuel A. Walker
Farina’s Friendly Zulus
1879
Albumen carte-de-visite
Courtesy of Michael Graham Stewart collection

 

This man was brought to Britain with a Zulu troupe during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 and was part of explorer Guillermo Antonio Farini’s exhibition of ‘Friendly Zulus’ in London, 1879.

 

Advert for the Lion Troupe of Ashante Warriors, the Wonders of the World, c. 1890

 

Advert for the Lion Troupe of Ashante Warriors, the Wonders of the World
c. 1890.
Courtesy of Michael Graham Stewart collection

 

 

“In the centre of the gallery is an original carte-de-visite day book from the Camille Silvy archive, open on a page with portraits of a finely dressed Sarah Forbes Bonetta (1862). Bonetta, goddaughter to Queen Victoria, was born of royal Yoruba blood, captured and enslaved as a child. She was gifted to Queen Victoria, who arranged for her fostering and education. The Bonetta photographs exemplify the strength of the research, and succeed in complicating colonial narratives.

The additional intervention into the National Portrait archive to compliment the Hulton Archive studio portrait photographs are exhibited in galleries 23 and 31. They are more complex responses to Black Chronicles. Drawing from existing NPG archive material, the photographs and paintings selected use different registers to evidence historical Black and Asian contributions to British history. The inclusion of Angus McBean’s distinct black and white photographs of the Ballets Negres in gallery 31 are notable in their historical context. McBean’s photographs document the first black ballet company. The carte-de-viste photographs in gallery 23 are displayed as original photographs in a glass cabinet in the centre of the Expansion and Empire room. The individual sitters are identified by name, status and biography, the group portraits by racial type, status and having visited the House of Commons. Whilst these images stand testament to cultural diversity in the late 19th/early 20th century, the historical colonial connotations of the photographic exhibition strategies used in the Expansion and Empire gallery cannot be ignored.”

Caroline Molloy. “Black Chronicles. Photographic Portraits 1862-1948,” on the Photomonitor website 25 July 2016

 

Camille Silvy. 'Sarah Forbes Bonetta' 1862

 

Camille Silvy
Sarah Forbes Bonetta
1862
Albumen print
© National Portrait Gallery London

 

Camille Silvy. 'Sarah Forbes Bonetta (Sarah Davies)' 15 September 1862

 

Camille Silvy
Sarah Forbes Bonetta (Sarah Davies)
15 September 1862
Albumen print
3 1/4 in. x 2 1/4 in. (83 mm x 56 mm)
© National Portrait Gallery London
Purchased, 1904

 

Camille Silvy. 'Sarah Davies (formerly Forbes Bonetta) and James Pinson Labulo Davies' 1862

 

Camille Silvy
Sarah Davies (formerly Forbes Bonetta) and James Pinson Labulo Davies
1862
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

Born in west Africa of Yoruba descent, Sarah Forbes Bonetta (1843-1880) was captured at the age of five during the Okeadon War. She was thought to be of royal lineage and was presented to Queen Victoria, as if a gift, from King Gezo of Dahomey. She was named after Captain Frederick E. Forbes of the Royal Navy, who brought her to England, onboard his ship HMS Bonetta. As Queen Victoria’s protégée, Sarah was raised among the British upper class, and educated in both England and Sierra Leone. She became an accomplished pianist and linguist.

In 1862 at St Nicholas’s Church in Brighton she married the merchant and philanthropist James Pinson Labulo Davies (1829-1906). These photographs were taken to mark their marriage. James was born in Sierra Leone to Nigerian parents, and enlisted with the British Navy. He is credited with pioneering cocoa farming in West Africa. The couple returned to Africa soon after their wedding. Queen Victoria was godmother to their first child, Victoria who later attended Cheltenham Ladies College. The photographs are pasted into one of the daybooks that record the work of Camille Silvy, one of the most successful portrait photographers in London at the time.

 

Album 1-12: Camille Silvy Daybooks

A collection of twelve albums representing the output of Camille Silvy’s (1834-1910) photographic portrait studio based at 38 Porchester Terrace, Bayswater, London. Compiled by the studio, each album is arranged almost entirely chronologically and in sitter number order. Each page is divided into a grid of four sections with each section featuring one carte-de-visite sized albumen print from the sittings, pasted beneath the sitter number and a handwritten identification of the photograph’s subject.

Sitters range from royalty, peers and the landed gentry to London’s thriving migrant merchant community, and as a result, the Daybooks paint a unique view of London society and its visitors during the 1860s. In addition to studio portraits, there are a number of equestrian and post-mortem portraits. Non-portrait material includes copies of various paintings, such as the ‘Windsor Beauties’ by Sir Peter Lely, and other works of art, such as Marochetti’s sculptures, and reproductions from the Marquis d’Azeglio’s ‘Manuscrit Sforza’ and the ‘Manuscript d’Avalos’. There are also several views of the exterior of Silvy’s photographic establishment, as well as many portraits of Silvy himself, his family, and his business partner Auguste Renoult.

 

Camille Silvy. 'Sarah Forbes Bonetta' 1862

 

Camille Silvy
Sarah Forbes Bonetta
Brighton, 1862
Albumen print
Courtesy of Paul Frecker collection/The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

 

Ernest Edwards. 'Samuel Ajayi Crowther' 1864

 

Ernest Edwards
Samuel Ajayi Crowther
1864
Albumen carte-de-visite
3 3/8 in. x 2 3/8 in. (87 mm x 60 mm)
© National Portrait Gallery, London
Purchased, 1949

 

 

Samuel Ajayi Crowther (c. 1809-31 December 1891) was a linguist and the first African Anglican bishop in Nigeria. Born in Osogun (in what is now Iseyin Local Government, Oyo State, Nigeria), Crowther was a Yoruba who also identified with Sierra Leone’s ascendant Creole ethnic group…

Crowther was also a close associate and friend of Captain James Pinson Labulo Davies [husband of Sarah Forbes Bonetta featured above], an influential politician, mariner, philanthropist and industrialist in colonial Lagos. Both men collaborated on a couple of Lagos social initiatives such as the opening of The Academy (a social and cultural center for public enlightenment) on October 24, 1866 with Crowther as the 1st patron and Captain J.P.L Davies as 1st president.

Crowther was selected to accompany the missionary James Schön on the Niger expedition of 1841. Together with Schön, he was expected to learn Hausa for use on the expedition. The goal of the expedition was to spread commerce, teach agricultural techniques, spread Christianity, and help end the slave trade. Following the expedition, Crowther was recalled to England, where he was trained as a minister and ordained by the Bishop of London. This after Schön had written to the Church Missionary Society noting Crowther’s usefulness and ability on the expedition, recommending them to prepare him for ordination. He returned to Africa in 1843 and with Henry Townsend, opened a mission in Abeokuta, in today’s Ogun State, Nigeria.

Crowther began translating the Bible into the Yoruba language and compiling a Yoruba dictionary. In 1843, a grammar book which he started working on during the Niger expedition was published; and a Yoruba version of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer followed later. Crowther also compiled A vocabulary of the Yoruba language, including a large number of local proverbs, published in London in 1852. He also began codifying other languages. Following the British Niger Expeditions of 1854 and 1857, Crowther produced a primer for the Igbo language in 1857, another for the Nupe language in 1860, and a full grammar and vocabulary of Nupe in 1864.

In 1864, Crowther was ordained as the first African bishop of the Anglican Church; he was consecrated a bishop on St Peter’s day 1864, by Charles Longley, Archbishop of Canterbury at Canterbury Cathedral. He later received the degree of Doctor of Divinity from the University of Oxford.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Elliott & Fry. 'Martha Ricks' 18 July 1892

 

Elliott & Fry
Martha Ricks
18 July 1892
Albumen cabinet card
5 7/8 in. x 4 1/8 in. (148 mm x 104 mm)
© National Portrait Gallery, London
Given by John Herbert Dudley Ryder, 5th Earl of Harrowby, 1957

 

 

Martha Ann Erskine Ricks (1816-1901) had been enslaved on a Tennessee plantation. She settled in Liberia in 1830, as did many freed American slaves, after her father bought the family’s freedom. In 1892, Ricks travelled to Britain to fulfil her dream of presenting Queen Victoria with a quilt depicting a Liberian coffee tree in bloom, which took twenty-five years to make. With the help of the Liberian ambassador, Edward Blyden, she gained an audience with the queen at Windsor Castle. During her time in London, Ricks met John Archer, the first black mayor of a London borough.

 

Antoine Claudet. 'Maharajah Duleep Singh' 1860s

 

Antoine Claudet
Maharajah Duleep Singh
1860s
Albumen carte-de-visite
3 1/2 in. x 2 1/4 in. (89 mm x 57 mm)
acquired Clive Holland, 1959

 

 

Maharaja Duleep Singh, GCSI (6 September 1838 – 22 October 1893), also known as Dalip Singh and later in life nicknamed the Black Prince of Perthshire,was the last Maharaja of the Sikh Empire. He was Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s youngest son, the only child of Maharani Jind Kaur.

After the assassinations of four of his predecessors, he came to power in September 1843, at the age of five. For a while, his mother ruled as Regent, but in December 1846, after the First Anglo-Sikh War, she was replaced by a British Resident and imprisoned. Mother and son were not allowed to meet again for thirteen and a half years. In April 1849 ten-year-old Duleep was put in the care of Dr John Login.

He was exiled to Britain at age 15 and was befriended and much admired by Queen Victoria, who is reported to have written of the Punjabi Maharaja: “Those eyes and those teeth are too beautiful”. The Queen was godmother to several of his children. In 1856, he tried to contact his mother, but his letter and emissaries were intercepted by the British in India, and did not reach her. However, he persisted and, with help from Login, was allowed to meet her on 16 January 1861 at Spence’s Hotel in Calcutta and return with her to the United Kingdom. During the last two years of her life, his mother told the Maharaja about his Sikh heritage and the Empire which once had been his to rule. …

Duleep Singh died in Paris in 1893 at the age of 55, having seen India after the age of fifteen during only two brief, tightly-controlled visits in 1860 (to bring his mother to England) and in 1863 (to scatter his mother’s ashes). Duleep Singh’s wish for his body to be returned to India was not honoured, in fear of unrest, given the symbolic value the funeral of the son of the Lion of the Punjab might have caused, given growing resentment of British rule. His body was brought back to be buried according to Christian rites, under the supervision of the India Office in Elveden Church beside the grave of his wife Maharani Bamba, and his son Prince Edward Albert Duleep Singh. The graves are located on the west side of the Church.

A life-size bronze statue of the Maharaja showing him on a horse was unveiled by HRH the Prince of Wales in 1999 at Butten Island in Thetford, a town which benefited from his and his sons’ generosity.

Text from the Wikipedia website

.
Antoine François Jean Claudet
 (August 18, 1797 – December 27, 1867), was a French photographer and artist who produced daguerreotypes. He was born in La Croix-Rousse son of Claude Claudet, a cloth merchant and Etiennette Julie Montagnat, was active in Great Britainand died in London. He was a student of Louis Daguerre.

Having acquired a share in L. J. M. Daguerre’s invention, he was one of the first to practice daguerreotype portraiture in England, and he improved the sensitizing process by using chlorine (instead of bromine) in addition to iodine, thus gaining greater rapidity of action. He also invented the red (safe) dark-room light, and it was he who suggested the idea of using a series of photographs to create the illusion of movement. The idea of using painted backdrops is also attributed to him.

From 1841 to 1851 he operated a studio on the roof of the Adelaide Gallery (now the Nuffield Centre), behind St. Martin’s in the Fields church, London. He opened subsequent studios at the Colosseum in Regent’s Park (1847-1851) and at 107 Regent Street (1851-1867).

 

Antoine Claudet. 'Maharani Duleep Singh' 1860s

 

Antoine Claudet
Maharani Duleep Singh
1860s
Albumen carte-de-visite
3 1/2 in. x 2 1/4 in. (88 mm x 57 mm)
acquired Clive Holland, 1959

 

 

Maharani Bamba Duleep Singh (born Bamba Müller; July 6, 1848 – September 18, 1887) was the wife of Maharaja Duleep Singh. Brought up by Christian missionaries, she married Duleep Singh and became Maharani Bamba, wife of the last Maharaja of Lahore. Her transformation from illegitimate girl living in a Cairo mission to a Maharani living a life of luxury with the “Black Prince of Perthshire” has been compared to the “Cinderella” story.

On his return from Bombay Duleep passed through Cairo and visited the missionaries there on 10 February 1864. He visited again a few days later and was taken around the girls’ school, where he first met Bamba Müller, who was an instructor. She was the only girl there who had committed herself to a Christian life. On each visit Duleep made presents to the mission of several hundreds of pounds.

Duleep Singh wrote to the teachers at the missionary school at the end of the month in the hope that they would recommend a wife for him as he was to live in Britain and he wanted a Christian wife of Eastern origin. Queen Victoria had told Duleep that he should marry an Indian princess who had been educated in England, but he desired a girl with less sophistication. The final proposal had to be done via an intermediary as Duleep did not speak Arabic, Müller’s only language. The missionaries discussed this proposal with Müller. She was unsure whether to accept the proposal offered via the missionaries. Her first ambition was to rise to teach children in a missionary school. Her father was consulted but he left the choice to his daughter. Müller eventually made her decision after praying for guidance. She decided that the marriage was God’s call for her to widen her ambitions. Singh made a substantial contribution of one thousand pounds to the school and married Müller on 7 June 1864 in the British Consulate in Alexandria, Egypt. …

The couple had three sons and three daughters whom they brought up at Elveden Hall in Suffolk, England. Her six children were: Victor Albert Jay (1866-1918), Frederick Victor (1868-1926), Bamba Sophia Jindan (1869-1957), Catherina Hilda (1871-1942), Sophia Alexandra (1876-1948), and Albert Edward Alexander (1879-1893) … In 1886 her husband resolved to return to India. On his way there he was arrested in Aden and forced to return to Europe. Bamba died on September 18, 1887 and was buried at Elveden. Her husband went on to marry again in 1889 to Ada Douglas Wetherill and had two more children. Her son Albert Edward Alexander Duleep Singh died aged thirteen in Hastings on May 1, 1893 and was buried next to his mother. When Bamba’s husband died, his body has brought back to England and buried with his wife and son at Elveden.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Henry Joseph Whitlock. 'Keshub Chunder Sen' 1870

 

Henry Joseph Whitlock
Keshub Chunder Sen
1870
Albumen carte-de-visite
4 in. x 2 1/2 in. (103 mm x 63 mm) overall
© National Portrait Gallery, London
Given by Terence Pepper, 2014

 

 

Henry Joseph Whitlock (1835-1918)
Photographer; son of Joseph Whitlock and older brother of Frederick Whitlock

Henry’s father Joseph Whitlock was the first person to establish a permanent photographic studio in Birmingham, in 1843. In 1852 Henry Whitlock joined the family firm, and three years later he left Birmingham to set up his own studio in Worcester. He returned to Birmingham in 1862, after the death of both his parents, and founded the firm H.J. Whitlock & Sons of Birmingham and Wolverhampton.

Keshab Chandra Sen (Bengali: কেশবচন্দ্র সেনKeshob Chôndro Shen) (19 November 1838 – 8 January 1884) was an Indian Bengali Hindu philosopher and social reformer who attempted to incorporate Christian theology within the framework of Hindu thought. Born a Hindu, he became a member of the Brahmo Samaj in 1856 but founded his own breakaway “Brahmo Samaj of India” in 1866 while the Brahmo Samaj remained under the leadership of Maharshi Debendranath Tagore (who headed the Brahmo Samaj till his death in 1905). In 1878 his followers abandoned him after the underage child marriage of his daughter which exposed his campaign against child marriage as hollow. Later in his life he came under the influence of Ramakrishna and founded a syncretic “New Dispensation” or Nôbobidhaninspired by Christianity, and Vaishnav bhakti, and Hindu practices. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company Messrs R.M. Richardson & Co (publishers) 'Dadabhai Naoroji' c. 1892

 

London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company
Messrs R.M. Richardson & Co (publishers)
Dadabhai Naoroji
c. 1892
Sepia-toned carbon print cabinet card
5 3/4 in. x 4 in. (146 mm x 101 mm)
© National Portrait Gallery, London
Purchased, 2006

 

 

Dadabhai Naoroji (1825 – 1917) was the first Indian MP to be elected to the House of Commons. Born near Mumbai, the son of a Parsi priest, he was educated at Elphinstone College where he became the first Indian professor of mathematics and natural philosophy. He travelled to London in 1855, becoming professor of Gujurati at University College London and founding the London Zoroastrian Association (1861). He campaigned to open the Indian Civil Service to Indians and formulated the ‘drain theory’, outlining how British rule drained the financial resources of India.
He was elected Liberal MP for Finsbury in 1892 and financially supported the Pan-African Conference in 1900.

 

(Cornelius) Jabez Hughes. 'Prince (Dejatch) Alamayou of Abyssinia (Prince Alemayehu Tewodros of Ethiopia)' 1868

 

(Cornelius) Jabez Hughes
Prince (Dejatch) Alamayou of Abyssinia (Prince Alemayehu Tewodros of Ethiopia)
1868
Albumen carte-de-visite
3 3/8 in. x 2 1/4 in. (85 mm x 58 mm)
© National Portrait Gallery, London
Given by Sir Geoffrey Langdon Keynes, 1958

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Dejazmatch Alamayou Tewodros on the Isle of Wight' 1868

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Dejazmatch Alamayou Tewodros on the Isle of Wight
1868
Albumen print
Courtesy of Jenny Allsworth collection

 

 

Dejazmatch Alemayehu Tewodros, often referred to as HIH Prince Alemayehu or Alamayou of Ethiopia (23 April 1861 – 14 November 1879) was the son of Emperor Tewodros II of Ethiopia. Emperor Tewodros II committed suicide after his defeat by the British, led by Sir Robert Napier, at the Battle of Magdala in 1868. Alemayehu’s mother was Empress Tiruwork Wube.

The young prince was taken to Britain, under the care of Captain Tristram Speedy. The Empress Tiruwork had intended to travel to Britain with her son following the death of her husband, but died on the way to the coast leaving Alemayehu an orphan. Initially, Empress Tiruwork had resisted Captain Speedy’s efforts to be named the child’s guardian, and had even asked the commander of the British forces, Lord Napier, to keep Speedy away from her child and herself. After the death of the Empress however, Napier allowed Speedy to assume the role of caretaker. Upon the arrival of the little Prince’s party in Alexandria however, Speedy dismissed the entire Ethiopian entourage of the Prince much to their distress and they returned to Ethiopia.

While staying at Speedy’s home on the Isle of Wight he was introduced to Queen Victoria at her home at Osborne House. She took a great interest in his life and education. Alamayehu spent some time in India with Speedy and his wife, but the government decided he should be educated in England and he was sent to Cheltenham to be educated under the care of Thomas Jex-Blake, principal of Cheltenham College. He moved to Rugby School with Jex-Blake in 1875, where one of his tutors was Cyril Ransome (the future father of Arthur Ransome). In 1878 he joined the officers’ training school at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, but he was not happy there and the following year went to Far Headingley, Leeds, West Yorkshire, to stay with his old tutor Cyril Ransome. Within a week he had contracted pleurisy and died after six weeks of illness, despite the attentions of Dr Clifford Allbutt of Leeds and other respected consultants.

Queen Victoria mentioned the death of the young prince in her diary, saying what a good and kind boy he had been and how sad it was that he should die so far from his family. She also mentioned how very unhappy the prince had been, and how conscious he was of people staring at him because of his colour.

Queen Victoria arranged for Alamayehu to be buried at Windsor Castle. The funeral took place on 21 November 1879, in the presence of Cyril Ransome, Chancellor of the Exchequer Stafford Northcote, General Napier, and Captain Speedy. A brass plaque in the nave of St George’s chapel commemorates him and bears the words “I was a stranger and ye took me in”, but Alamayehu’s body is buried in a brick vault outside the chapel. Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia arranged for second plaque commemorating the Prince to be placed in the chapel as well.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Angus McBean. 'Berto Pasuka' 1940s

 

Angus McBean
Berto Pasuka
1940s
Vintage bromide print
6 1/8 in. x 4 1/2 in. (156 mm x 113 mm)
© National Portrait Gallery, London
Purchased, 2008
Photograph: © Harvard Theatre Collection, Harvard University

 

 

Angus McBean (8 June 1904 – 9 June 1990) was a Welsh photographer, set designer and cult figure associated with surrealism.

… [Ivor] Novello was so impressed with McBean’s romantic photographs that he commissioned him to take a set of production photographs as well, including young actress Vivien Leigh. The results, taken on stage with McBean’s idiosyncratic lighting, instantly replaced the set already made by the long-established but stolid Stage Photo Company. McBean had a new career and a photographic leading lady: he was to photograph Vivien Leigh on stage and in the studio for almost every performance she gave until her death thirty years later.

McBean resultantly became one of the most significant portrait photographers of the 20th century, and was known as a photographer of celebrities. In the Spring of 1942 his career was temporarily ruined when he was arrested in Bath for criminal acts of homosexuality. He was sentenced to four years in prison and was released in the autumn of 1944. After the Second World War, McBean was able to successfully resume his career.

In 1945, not sure whether he would find work again, McBean set up a new studio in a bomb-damaged building in Endell Street, Covent Garden. He sold his Soho camera for £35, and bought a new half-plate Kodak View monorail camera to which he attached his trusted Zeiss lenses. McBean was commissioned first by the Stratford Memorial Theatre to photograph a production of Anthony and Cleopatra, and all his former clients quickly returned. Through the late 1940s and 50s he was the official photographer at Stratford, the Royal Opera House, Sadler’s Wells, Glyndebourne, the Old Vic and at all the productions of H. M. Tennent, servicing the theatrical, musical and ballet star system. (An example of his work in this genre from 1951 can be seen on the page about Anne Sharp, whom he photographed in a role in one of Benjamin Britten’s operas.) Magazines such as The Sketch and Tatler and Bystander vied to commission McBean’s new series of surreal portraits. In 1952 he photographed Pamela Green as Botticelli’s Venus, with David Ball his boyfriend as Zephyrus.

Despite the decline in demand for theatre and production art during the 1950’s, McBean’s creative and striking ideas provided him with work in the emergent record cover business with companies such as EMI, when he was commissioned to create Cliff Richard’s first four album sleeves. McBean’s later works included being the photographer for the cover of The Beatles’ first album Please Please Me, as well as commissions by a number of other performers. In 1969 he returned with the Beatles to the same location to shoot the cover for their album Get Back. This later came out as Let It Be with a different cover, but McBean’s photo was used (together with an outtake from the Please Please Me cover shoot) for the cover of the Beatles’ 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 compilations in 1973. In his later years he became more selective of the work he undertook, and continued to explore surrealism whilst taking portrait photographs of individuals such as Agatha Christie, Audrey Hepburn, Laurence Olivier and Noël Coward. Both periods of his work (pre and post war) are now eagerly sought by collectors and his work sits in many major collections around the world.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Berto Pasuka (1911 – 1963), Jamaican dancer and choreographer. The co-founder of ground-breaking dance troupe Les Ballets Negre.

Born Wilbert Passerley in Jamaica, Pasuka ignored his family’s wishes for him to become a dentist, instead following his own passion to dance. He studied classical ballet in Kingston, where he first saw a group of descendants of runaway slaves dancing to the rhythmic beat of a drum. Feeling inspired to take black dance to new audiences, he moved to London in 1939, enrolling at the Astafieva dance school to polish off his choreography skills. Following his work on the movie Men of Two Worlds he and fellow Jamaican dancer Richie Riley, decided to create their own dance company. Les Ballet Negres was born in the 1940’s bringing traditional and contemporary black dance to the UK and Europe with sell-out tours.

 

Angus McBean. 'Berto Pasuka' 1947

 

Angus McBean
Berto Pasuka
1947
Vintage bromide print
5 3/4 in. x 4 1/4 in. (145 mm x 107 mm)
© National Portrait Gallery, London
Purchased, 2008

 

George Hurrell. 'Pandit Ram Gopal' 1948

 

George Hurrell
Pandit Ram Gopal
1948
Cream-toned bromide print
13 1/2 in. x 10 5/8 in. (343 mm x 271 mm)
© National Portrait Gallery, London
Purchased, 2006

 

George Hurrell. 'Pandit Ram Gopal' 1948

 

George Hurrell
Pandit Ram Gopal
1948
Cream-toned bromide print on board
13 1/2 in. x 10 5/8 in. (343 mm x 271 mm)
© National Portrait Gallery, London
Purchased, 2006

 

 

Pandit Ram Gopal (1912 – 2003), Dancer, choreographer and teacher

Dancer, choreographer and teacher. The pioneer of classical Indian dance in this country, Ram Gopal was born in Bangalore, and initially trained in the classical Indian dance style of Kathakali. After the War he starred in a number of Hollywood epics made on location, such as The Purple Plain (1954), and William Dieterle’s Elephant Walk (1954), for which he had also choreographed the dance sequences. After a series of successful world tours he settled in this country in 1954 in London. In the 1960s Gopal was a partner of Alicia Markova, having appeared with her at the Prince’s Theatre in 1960, in a duet – Radha-Krishna – choreographed by him, which transferred to the Edinburgh Festival later that year.

“I love to move, to leap, to float … well, just let the spirit seize me at the sound of drums or music.”

~ Ram Gopal, Rhythm in the Heavens, 1957

.
Ram Gopal was an international pioneer of Indian classical dance. Gopal’s skill in Bharata Natyam and Kathakali learnt from leading teachers was recognised early. Born in Bangalore, he defied the wishes of his father, a Rajput lawyer and his Burmese mother, to take up dance. He was supported by the Yuvaraja of Mysore and in the 1930s began touring extensively overseas, first with American dancer La Meri.

Gopal made his celebrated London debut in 1939, performing to a full house at the Aldwych Theatre. His performances received glowing reviews from dancers and critics alike. During the Second World War, Gopal returned to India to help the British war effort by dancing for the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA). He settled in London in the 1950s but continued to tour internationally. The dance historian Cyril Beaumont wrote, “I should doubt if any male dancer has travelled more than he, and always with success and a request to return.” Widely recognised for his work as a dancer and choreographer, Gopal also enjoyed a successful career in America, directing dance sequences for Hollywood epics and appearing in films such as Elephant Walk (1954). His best-known creations are the Legend of the Taj Mahal, Dance of the Setting Sun and Dances of India of which he wrote, “I feel I have justified the past while keeping in touch with the present.”

In 1960 the English ballerina Dame Alicia Markova collaborated with Gopal to create the duet Radha-Krishna. Gopal spoke frequently of the ways ballet and Indian dance could complement each other, bringing together diverse cultural experiences. He hoped that through dance “the highest cultures of the East and the West will be drawn together and will work towards a true culture which is above all distinctions of race, nation, and faith.” In 1990 Gopal was given the honorific Indian title of Pandit and was appointed OBE in 1999. Five vintage photographs by Carl Van Vechten, Madame D’Ora and George Hurrell show Gopal in various costumes and dances.

Text from the Black Chronicles website

 

 

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St Martin’s Place
London, WC2H 0HE

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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