“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.

From the back cover:

Join Peter Brathwaite on an extraordinary journey through representations of Black subjects in Western art, from medieval Europe through the present day.

“These mirror images with their uncanny resemblances traverse space and time, spotlighting the black lives that have been silenced by the canon of western art, while also inviting us to interrogate the present.” —Times (UK)

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Peter Brathwaite has thoughtfully researched and reimagined more than one hundred artworks featuring portraits of Black sitters—all posted to social media with the caption “Rediscovering #blackportraiture through #gettymuseumchallenge.”

Rediscovering Black Portraiture collects more than fifty of Brathwaite’s most intriguing re-creations. Introduced by the author and framed by contributions from experts in art history and visual culture, this fascinating book offers a nuanced look at the complexities and challenges of building identity within the African diaspora and how such forces have informed Black portraits over time. Artworks featured include The Adoration of the Magi by Georges Trubert, Portrait of an Unknown Man by Jan Mostaert, Rice n Peas by Sonia Boyce, Barack Obama by Kehinde Wiley, and many more. This volume also invites readers behind the scenes, offering a glimpse of the elegant artifice of Brathwaite’s props, setup, and process.

An urgent and compelling exploration of embodiment, representation, and agency, Rediscovering Black Portraiture serves to remind us that Black subjects have been portrayed in art for nearly a millennium and that their stories demand to be told.

An exhibition of Brathwaite’s re-creations is on view at the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery in Bristol, UK from April 14 to July 23, 2023.

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