Visited Autograph for a meeting with Mark Sealy (Autograph Director), Ajamu (artist and curator) and Deborah Cherry (writer and academic) regarding a partnership project focusing on the work and legacy of Maud Sulter. Maud was a Glaswegian artist, writer, playwright and culture historian who was active around feminist communities in London in the early 1980s, and a life long advocate of black women’s creativity. Amongst a prolific body of work, she has used a variety of conventions from portraiture to question ‘national’ heritage and the history of colonialism. The project is being developed by Ajamu and Deborah through Street Level and Autograph, and it is hoped other institutions will be brought in to the project as partners in the exhibition in 2014. It will be a fantastic opportunity to revisit and re-present some of Maud’s key works and celebrate her photographic projects. Other partner institutions are hoped to be involved.
“Notable works by Sulter include Zabat (1987; London, V&A), a series of Cibachrome photographic portraits of contemporary black artists, musicians and writers, posed as a theatre of ancient muses; Syrcas (1994; Wrexham and Portfolio Gallery, Edinburgh), a set of montages and texts linking the horrors of African slavery with the European persecution of minorities in the 1930s and 1940s; Jeanne Duval: a melodrama (2003; Scottish National Portrait Gallery). This last was a series of self-portraits as Baudelaire’s muse, Jeanne Duval, recovering an almost invisible presence in a way that only Sulter could have carried off, with her beauty, sensuality, confidence and ability to dramatise a situation.
She was commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery to photograph several children’s writers, and used a special Polaroid machine which produced 20″ x 24″ photographs. This was also the medium for a series of portraits she made of Scottish cultural figures in the summer of 2002, and 10 of her portraits of writers were toured round Scotland by the Scottish Poetry Library in 2003-4.
Glasgow acquired the splendid portrait of Edwin Morgan from this series.
As well as her academic writing, she published several collections of poetry: As a Blackwoman (1985), which won the Vera Bell Prize for poetry that year; Zabat (1989); and Sekhmet (Dumfries & Galloway Council, 2005); and a play about Jerry Rawlings, Service to Empire (2002). “I often address issues of lost and disputed territories, both psychological and physical,” she wrote in 1994. “The central body of my poetic work is unequivocally the love poetry which is addressed to both genders.” Sekhmet begins with a roll-call of love and gratitude to friends, lovers, family across the world, to medics, and to the ancestors, “who walked beside me when I needed them most and carried me forward when the terrain was too rough but never absolve me of the responsibility for my own life and identity”.