Maud Sulter (born 1960)
Museum No. E.1796-1991
This self-portrait of the artist as Calliope is part of a series of studio portraits that show creative black women as the nine muses of Greek mythology. The series is called Zabat and was produced in response to the celebration of the 150th anniversary of photography in 1989 - an overwhelmingly white occasion.
The format is that of large-scale history portraits within which each subject is classically posed. The sitters are striking for not being passive or white, as traditional images in this stylistic format would be.
The writer Alice Walker appears in the series as Thalia, the muse of comedy. Sulter poses as Calliope, the muse of poetry. She writes of this image, 'If you're black and female the chance of one's poetry being attributed to one in later life is slim.'
My Blackness My Cloak
My blackness is a beautiful cloak
Of selfhood that permeates my soul
So sister-white feminist
When you see
a bit of sun
rushing to me
'Look, I'll be as brown
(never black - God forbid)
as you soon'
or also common
'I get even darker
Your peeling red flesh
I couldn't give a damn.
Maud Sulter, from As a Black Woman, 1985
Maud Sulter was born in Glasgow of Scots-Ghanaian parentage. She is a poet, historian, teacher and artist. Her work is concerned with questions of identity and the power relations around authorship.
This photograph can be found in Print Room Box 16.