Exploring Black women’s lives in Britain

The last few months have seen us carry out various events, including workshops on topics relating to interwar art and the Black London presence and a workshop called ‘Exploring black women’s lives in Britain, 1880-1940’. This event was organised in conjunction with Nwakaego Ahaiwe for the We Are Here Black British Feminist Exploration project. At the workshop we discussed and shared historical research on Black women and linked these experiences to our own and others’ experiences and identities as Black women living in Britain today. I talked about the role in art history of Amina Peerbhoy (known as Sunita) and Miriam Patel (known as Anita), two Indian sisters who migrated to Britain in the 1920s, ran a stall at the 1924 Empire exhibition in Wembley and worked as artist models with sculptor Jacob Epstein. Sunita became one of the most celebrated artists’ models of the 1920s and 1930s, but is noticeably absent from much writing on interwar art. As well as drawings, small bronzes, and paintings portraying Sunita and Anita, Epstein modelled his 1927 public sculpture Madonna and Child on Sunita and her son Enver. This sculpture is now housed in the Riverside Church, in New York. Caroline Bressey spoke about her research into black women’s lives in Victorian Britain, highlighting the ways in which visual culture  and archives can be used to uncover previously unknown lives of black people living and working in the imperial metropole. One fascinating story highlighted was that of Victoria Randle and her mother Sarah Davies who were both god-daughters of Queen Victoria with letters and diary entries that form part of the Royal Archives.

P1000064

 

The discussion after our talks was stimulating and rewarding.  Lauren Craig, a London-based artist and arts researcher, reflected on the issues and stories raised in the workshop by composing a poem. She has kindly allowed us to share the poem here:

 

How They Pose

Lauren Craig

 

In their eyes the hatred rose

In the Rose their connection grows

Emblems of an empire

 

In their posture: is that satire?

I see their souls, do their eyes show fire?

Expressions of divine creativity

How these ancient beings inspire

 

Freedom and flare

Life, death desire blurred despair

Survival of lines pencil drawn are rare

Hidden and written out

How they dare!

 

As we bleed into each other

Colour lines become invisible

We are blinded as we suspend dis-belief

The palette is rich

How vibrant, visual, visceral

 

With the seeds of strength for the future

That’s how they pose

 

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