Cover Image: Rediscovering Black Portraiture

Rediscovering Black Portraiture

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Member Reviews

A staggering work of art, criticism, memoir, and history. Brathwaite's recreations of historical Black portraiture are vividly detailed and gorgeously composed, rewarding long contemplation with lots and lots of detail to discover. A uniquely powerful work!
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In 2020, the Getty Museum issued a challenge for the pandemic: recreate art masterpieces in your home using commonly found household items. Peter Brathwaite took the challenge a step further than the hundreds of home-bound art lovers who responded and incorporated his own challenge: to illuminate the representation of Black people in art history. In this collection of over fifty reimaginings, Brathwaite, a Black British opera singer who has struggled with racism in his own arts career, takes us on a journey of discovery about the way Blacks have been portrayed in art for over 1,000 years. He is creative in his use of household items (a tin of pineapple stands in for an actual pineapple in a recreation of a portrait of a Haitian farm slave), but also uses items such as his grandfather's cou-cou stick, his grandmother's patchwork quilt, and several personal family documents to illustrate the importance of his history as a descendant of enslaved people of Barbados. Along the way, three art history professors (Cheryl Finley, Temi Odumosu and Mark Sealy) add scholarly commentary to his work, and the volume ends with suggestions for further reading.

An example: when recreating"Manet's "Olympia." Brathwaite ignores the titular sex worker and recreates only the portion of the painting that shows her maid proffering a bouquet of flowers. As many times as I've looked at "Olympia" (including in person at the Musée D'Orsay), I can't say that I have ever noticed the maid as an individual. She appeared to me primarily as an "accessory" of Olympia, part of her life perhaps, but (as we note in her bored gaze), not an important enough person to acknowledge. Brathwaite portrays the maid holding a bouquet of flowers from his garden wrapped in a selection of his family's historical documents. He also points out that scholars have recently identified the Black maid as a model named Laure, who apparently sat for other artists and was part of the growing Black middle class in Europe in the late 19th Century. Laure's name has recently been restored to titles in two other of Manet's works. Fascinating.

This book was revelatory to me. Brathwaite succeeded in giving visibility and agency to Black men and women portrayed in art throughout history, and who have either been ignored like Manet's maid or who have been portrayed with racist elements. Others have noticed his work as well; in addition to this new book, his work has been exhibited at King's College London and is currently (spring 2023) on display at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. I appreciated Brathwaite's loving tributes not only to forgotten men and women, but also his own ancestors, and I enjoyed the humor and creative spirit he brought to this project. Highly recommended.

Many thanks to Getty Publications and NetGalley for the opportunity to receive and ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.
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I absolutely jumped at the chance to read this asap, I'd been frustrated at not being able to get to the exhibition of Brathwaite's recreations, but I'm actually glad I had a chance to not only see the recreations but also to absorb the stories behind them. 

This is a lovely balance of witty engaging recreations and knowledgable, well researched background information on the originals. As an art history student, it is repeatedly emphasised how we are only learning a small proportion of art history, and that it's overwhelmingly white and eurocentric. This book is a readily accessible source to help start to rebalance that. 

My only problem is that the recommended reading list has added a bulk of new books to my TBR..! 

I received an advance copy for free from NetGalley, on the expectation that I would provide an honest review.
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This was such an original idea and I loved how it was executed. I loved how Brathwaite recreated each picture so perfectly with things he just had around. I need to buy a coffee table boom of this asap!
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“Rediscovering Black Portraiture” is truly unique, it brings in one book deep historical reflection; beautiful rare art; a reflection of life in the global COVID-19 lockdown; and a playfulness and poignancy in the recreation of art from household objects and mementos. I don’t know what I expected, but this was so much more!

As an art history student, I was aware prior to reading this how rare portraits of Black sitters are. It was a delight to see these artworks and explore the context and meaning behind each. These are people who need to be seen and I hope this will create the spark to find more artworks of Black subjects and to tell their stories.

The COVID-19 pandemic was the catalyst for this exploration of Black British opera singer, Peter Brathwaite. In addition to finding and researching these artworks, he recreates them with props from around his home revealing glimpses into his life as well as reflecting how small our own worlds became physically during this period of time. His ingenuity is impressive as he finds ways to capture the mood and message behind the piece. Through his attention to detail, he draws the viewer’s attention to elements of the art that may have otherwise been overlooked. I love finding new artwork to savour and “The King Caspar” by Hendrick Heerschop and “Francis Williams, the scholar of Jamaica” by Unknown Artist are two of my new favourites.

Peter’s creativity and talent shine throughout, I can only imagine what he is like on stage! His storytelling is moving and relevant to so many discussions we are having today. Nestled amongst the artworks are thought-provoking and insightful essays offering viewpoints in addition to those of Peter Brathwaite which add new dimensions.

This book is a gem and I can’t recommend it highly enough! It’s one to enjoy slowly and pick up again and again. It’s a five out of five on the enJOYment scale.

I received a complimentary copy of the book from Getty Publications through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in these reviews are completely my own.
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There are rich layers of meaning on every page of this gorgeous book. Each choice made by Peter Braithwaite, from determining which works of classical art to use as a springboard for his work, to his choice of materials to incorporate in his interpretations, is laden with meaning and purpose. Each artwork unfolds multiple directions for  further thought and deep-dive research. Those who love Nick Cave's Soundsuits and the stills of Cindy Sherman will find a feast for the mind and the mind's eye here.
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This was a pleasure to read. Seeing all the artwork that included African American figures, be it as a peripheral figure or the star of the show, was incredible to experience. And the author's idea of re-creating each image seemed to be an excellent idea when explained in the intro. Yet, when actually done, at times it became annoying. Some of the re-creations have the author looking silly, which in turn diminishes the impact of the original artwork. It would have been far better had the author simply focused on demonstrating that African Americans were actually part of western European artworks, providing informative captions explaining each image and personal observations from the author. In short, the artworks are exquisite; the delivery, not so much. Therefore, from an artistic standpoint ONLY, this book is a worthwhile read. 

Thanks to NetGalley and Getty for access for this arc, which I voluntarily read and reviewed.
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Rediscovering Black Portraiture is Peter Brathwaite's record of the Getty Museum Challenge, a viral internet challenge from 2020 COVID lockdown where people recreated classic works from Art History using items found around their house. Brathwaite, an opera singer and presenter, used the challenge as a springboard for a new artistic challenge for finding Black subjects in European paintings and reinterpreting them with his own voice.
The book is beautiful, with side-by-side comparisons of the original artworks with Brathwaite's recreations, alongside his commentary about the artworks, their Black subjects, and the choices he made while reinterpreting them. While Brathwaite does not shy away from humor, his interpretations are also deeply personal and tied to his family lineage.
I was pleasantly surprised by the theoretical chapter in the middle, an essay by Temi Odumosu called "Feeling in the Dark: Rediscovering Black Portraiture as Speculative Metadata." In this essay, Odumosu explains the hidden biases encoded in the metadata behind algorithmic search engines, especially how they anonymize and deperson Black portrait subjects. Then, Odumosu goes on to offer an interpretation of Brathwaite's recreations as recoding the metadata to allow additional interpretations that are more sympathetic. I thought it was a brilliant analysis that added a lot to the ongoing urgency of Brathwaite's project, especially as the initial impetus (COVID lockdown) has passed.
There was also an interview between Brathwaite and Mark Sealy that I felt was less than successful, I am not sure if this is a factor of their existing rapport or if it was later edited, but the interview frequently felt as if the two were talking past each other rather than to each other. I don't think it added anything that Brathwaite's introduction and explanatory captions of his images lacked.
Overall, it is a book I would recommend, and I hope the photographs travel near me soon so I can see them in person!
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Rediscovering Black Portraiture by Peter Bratwaite is both a visually stunning book and a very thought-provoking journey through art history, and history more generally.

At first I thought back to another book from Getty, entitled Off the Walls, which collected many of the images from individuals who accepted the challenge from Getty to reimagine famous artwork using household items. That book was fun and, while some specific images could be used as a springboard into thinking about the production and reception of such art, was largely a collection designed to highlight the creativity these people used. Using the challenge as a common starting point, Brathwaite's volume is more like a single journey that, while still fun, gives us a lot to consider.

The scarcity of Black figures in art, especially as main subjects and not peripheral figures, made the quest to find works to recreate a challenge. The essays and interview with Brathwaite included in the book really adds to the impact. I found the essay that discussed the internet and metadata (my takeaways, the essay wasn't that narrow) very interesting.

As for the recreations, the inclusion of family items ("Granny's patchwork quilt" as an example) served as touchstones to consider the personal elements of both the recreations and of the individuals in the originals. I think his background as an opera singer gave him an ability to inhabit these people in much the same way he would inhabit a character in an opera. I often saw an expression on his face that made me go back and look more closely at the original. I could then, usually, see the emotion that I had missed the first time. And even the times I didn't see the same emotion, I did see more of that subject's humanity and less of just a person in a painting.

I would highly recommend this for everyone from those well-versed in art history to those who simply enjoy art and creativity in general. I think this would be a great book to include in either an art history course or, even better, an interdisciplinary course where some of the historic people and/or periods can be examined through a new lens. 

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.
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What a great book full of amazing ideas!
I had seen this challenge on social media in 2020 but didn’t know this author in particular and I’m blown away by his creativity!! The way he selected items available in his house to recreate those paintings were surprising and impressive! Some were beautiful and emotional, others were funny.
I love how the book was divided in 3 parts, and the small explanation behind each painting with who was the person represented and the context. I really enjoyed that there’s an interview of the author at the end and a look behind the scenes of one of his shoot.
If you want to educate yourself while looking at those creative challenges, this book is for you!
 I’d recommend to get it as a physical book (not the ebook) though because it will make the reading experience easier: the left page shows the original painting and the right one his reproduction.
Will make a great gift, coffee table book or something to read before bed!
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When I began the book I didn’t initially understand the concept… were the comparisons to originals supposed to be funny? Some are. Some make you wonder how the subject was feeling in that time period. You feel yourself moving through the transition of how blacks were depicted in art. In some I felt myself playing “I Spy” as the items used in the raw photos are listed. I found myself asking, “Where did he get these items? Why did he decide to use this here?”. My favorite is the creativity shown in Marchesa Elena Grimaldi Cattaneo (1623) that has fabric positioned in the form of a woman, quite brilliant. It would have been fun to be along on the journey of making this compilation, a small peak is given with an included interview of the author during Act 2. 

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. #NetGalley #RediscoveringBlackPortraiture
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Getty's hardcover editions are always very precious, with interesting text and rich in illustrations. This book is not an exception. It features the author's recreations of black people represented in artworks through history, following a popular trend during COVID lockdown but adding a painfully neglected subject. This not only for racism; as the committant of the original artiworks has been quite always wealthy people, for a long time black figures appared  only marginally, for curiosity, but rarely as main subjects.. With time this has changed but the author still testimonies racism in his ambient, so he searched and found a depiction of a French aristocrat of black skin that entitled the author to impersonate him in an opera without having to paint his face white. 
As opera singer he is used to change his appearance very often, so he embraces this new hobby with enthusiasm, humor and creativity. The reader can confront the creations with the original artwork. The result is very good sometimes, other times funny, in some cases ridiculous (in my opiinion some representations should have been better left out, as they do not serve the dignity of black people). So we have some creative artwork on its own and some carnevalesque ones of bad taste, as for example the Queen of Shaba).
I have seen a lot of artwork I did not know about but was missing Velázquez's  extraordinary Juan de Pareja..
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