An artist shines light on the Black aristocracy
The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Tuesday, July 16, 2024

An artist shines light on the Black aristocracy
The artist Glory Samjolly in London, April 11, 2022. Samjolly turned to social media with her Instagram account, “Blackaristocratart,” to document the real life Black gentry gaining attention through pop culture sensations such as Netflix’s “Bridgerton.” Serena Brown/The New York Times.

by Ruth La Ferla

NEW YORK, NY.- During a visit to a villa in Naples, Italy, Glory Samjolly cajoled her sister and a friend to engage in a witty form of cosplay. Posed regally in a period pastiche of men’s brocade vests, neck ruffs, knee breeches and lavishly embroidered frock coats, they were captured by Samjolly in a group portrait, with a playfully subversive title, “The Honorable Women of Slayage in Their Study.”

For all its pomp and vibrancy, the painting might have gone unnoticed, except that the artist and her other two subjects were Black.

The piece is provocative, but for Samjolly, a 24-year-old figurative artist and self-professed feminist, provocation is the point.

Her paintings were conceived as a retort to the dearth of Black nobles in historical European portraiture, she said from her home in London. It has been and still is “such a rarity to find Afro Europeans who aren’t slaves or shown as servants in the background of a painting, or featured as decoration,” said Samjolly, who studied fine arts at the University of the Arts London. “I asked myself, ‘Hang on, where is the rest of this work?’ ”

Hard pressed to find it, she decided to create her own oil portraits of contemporary artists, business owners, writers and intellectuals in costumes and settings evocative of the European Masters. Some, though not all, are friends willing to sit for Samjolly who paints them in oils against a period background, pressing her floridly ornamental effects onto the canvas through a process called oil transfer. (She sells prints of her paintings through her website.)

Strategically in tune with the times, she soon began scouring the internet for historical works to serve as inspiration. She posted them on her Instagram account, “Blackaristocratart,” replete with lofty Afro European figures of stature and nobility customarily overlooked by art historians.

“I want to bring to the forefront these characters who were footnotes in history,” she said of her posts, adding: “They are one way of reconstructing the way that Black and ethnic people view themselves.”

Her Instagram gallery — she is planning to find a physical space to house blowups of those images — includes Dmitry Levitzky’s late-1700s portrait of Ivan Gannibal, an eminent military leader and the great-uncle of Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, and a portrait of Pushkin himself, who is thought by some scholars to be of African descent.

Alessandro de’ Medici, ruler of Florence in the mid-1500s, appears, as does Dido Elizabeth Belle, daughter of a British naval captain and a slave, who grew up alongside her white cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray, in the lavish surroundings of Kenwood House in Hampstead.

Her Instagram posts, which focus on contemporary figures as well, did not arise in a pop culture vacuum. In “Sanditon,” a Jane Austen adaptation streaming on PBS, Crystal Clarke portrays an Antiguan heiress of mixed descent. The cast of “Bridgerton” is led by Golda Rosheuvel as Queen Charlotte, a character based on a historical noble believed to be of mixed heritage. (A planned prequel will focus on Queen Charlotte’s coming-of-age.) And there is “The Gilded Age,” the HBO series, with Denée Benton as Peggy Scott as an aspiring writer whose well-to-do parents live with servants of their own.

Samjolly is not the first contemporary artist to deploy as a theme the gaping hole in representation. She cites among her influences works by Yinka Shonibare, a Nigerian painter and sculptor who explores issues of race and class; American Kehinde Wiley, whose heroic portraits are an extravagant nod to the Masters; and Fabiola Jean-Louis, a Haitian who drapes an imaginary Afro European nobility in period dress.

The concept of a Black elite has long engaged scholars. Among the more recent is Olivette Otele, a professor of the history of slavery at the University of Bristol in England and author of “African Europeans: An Untold History,” which documents the rise of historical figures including Afro Dutch minister Jacobus Capitein and Johannes Maurus, the 13th-century Lord Chamberlain for the Kingdom of Sicily.

Christina Proenza-Coles, in her book “American Founders,” studied Black contributions to the shaping of the New World, writing that during the 19th century, “Afro Americans actively negotiated the terms of republicanism and citizenship,” as doctors, lawyers, military leaders and political activists.

But it is the visual representation of such elevated figures that resonates most keenly with Samjolly, whose paintings were exhibited late last year at Kirby Hall, in Northamptonshire and, again, in December, at Circolo, a Gucci pop-up space in Shoreditch in east London.

She still likes portraying herself and her friends tricked out in period finery.

“I love the lavishness and sparkle of classical art,” she said. “I ask myself, ‘What if I actually were one of these portraits? What would I have looked like living in that time?’ ”

The answer has been elusive, since, as she noted, the few women of color who do appear in historical portraiture “are often very humble and without much charisma.

“I plan on changing that.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Today's News

May 8, 2022

The $10 million Bob Dylan Center opens up his songwriting secrets

Goodwill sold a bust for $34.99. It's an ancient Roman relic.

Lviv reopens art galleries 'to show we are alive'

An artist shines light on the Black aristocracy

Exhibition Persia: Ancient Iran and the Classical World opens at the Getty Villa Museum

Galerie Gmurzynska NY presents Rouge et Noir by Otto Piene

Lauren Halsey brings her vision of South Central Los Angeles to New York

Major exhibition exploring color opens at Cheekwood

Henry Art Gallery announces new acquisitions

Strong Hong Kong sales results reaffirm Sotheby's market leadership in Asia

Bruce Silverstein Gallery now represents and opens first exhibition with Dakota Mace (Diné)

Outstanding results for the Diana Zlotnick Collection

Sotheby's to offer nine works by Helene Schjerfbeck from a Swedish private collection

Fairfield University Art Museum exhibits Larry Silver's Connecticut photographs

Dundee Contemporary Arts presents k.364 by Douglas Gordon

Princeton University Art Museum presents 'Screen Time: Photography and Video Art in the Internet Age'

Most of Broadway ends vaccine checks as cases rise in New York

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco announce staff appointments

Foreland names Georgia Wright Director of Curatorial and Cultural Strategy

Gallery NAGA opens a major solo exhibition of paintings by Nicole Chesney

L.A. Dance Project celebrates female choreographers

Stepping into the Balanchine-Stravinsky continuum

David Birney, who starred in TV's 'Bridget Loves Bernie,' dies at 83

A ballerina harnesses her wild imagination to choreography

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez
Writer: Ofelia Zurbia Betancourt

Royalville Communications, Inc
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful