Monday, 22 February 2016

Fowokan's "Young Garvey" Video


My introduction to Marcus Garvey like so many others was thru Bob Marley’s Redemption Song lyrics quoting the great man:

Emancipate yourself from mental slavery none but ourselves can feee our minds. 

For me this was about the individual freeing herself or himself to be what ever they wanted to be. It was my friend the sculptor Fowokan who introduced me to the Marcus Garvey behind these words a unique individual with outstanding leadership skills with his back to Africa ideals and a belief in Pan Africanism.

Fowokan’s video of his making of Young Garvey is the result of three years of hard work condensed into just over twelve minutes. He tracks his progress in his studio  from  from the manipulation of the first lump of clay right through to the mould making and casting

Fowokan not only speaks and writes from personal experience about Garvey but also thru Young Garvey brings Garvey to life making Garvey and his words real and relevant to us today.

Friday, 12 February 2016

7 min Toussaint Louverture Print at the V&A


I know this is off topic as it's 'not my period' but I was offered the chance to give a seven minute chat on a piece with a black connection from the splendid new Europe 1600-1815 Galleries collection. I choose an 1802 hand coloured print of Toussaint Louverture from the V&A Collection. You can read a transcript of my presentation here.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Why we need to keep printing the Acts of Parliament on Vellum


Vellum making a 2000 year process
What do paper, tape cassettes, CD ROMs, photographic paper, 35mm slides, hard drives, USB sticks all have in common as storage media? Answer : they will all fail as permanent storage media over time, for one reason or another. There is one media that will out last them all - vellum.

Vellum’s what the Magna Carta was written on in 1215 and it’s what the laws of England are written on today, 2115, 900 years later. In fact all the laws of the UK - Acts of Parliament - since 1497 have been printed on vellum.

Vellum has been a medium of record since Bronze age.

There is a move a foot in the House of Commons to save money in Parliament by moving to printing on high quality “archival paper” in order to save £27,000 - the difference between the cost of printing on  paper and printing and vellum. We need to protest now against this short sighted move.

Unrolling the 1511 Westminster Tournament Roll printed on vellum
with images just as bright today as they were in 1511
Section from the 60foot 1511 Westminster Tournament Roll - drawn on vellum
Vellum printed documents are for the ages. I speak as one who has had the pleasure of handling at first hand the 700 year old Domesday Abbreviato, it survived only because it was written  on vellum, further I was allowed to handle it as vellum documents benefit from the natural oils in human hands (unlike paper!).

Vellum is the natural media for documents to last the ages. Vellum can last 2,000 years plus while “archival paper” is only 250 years without an expensive air conditioned environment to ensure. So we should fight to keep vellum.

Vellum's been on TV and Radio indecent weeks -  listen into Jeremy Vine where Paul Wright from Crowley the last remaining vellum manufacturer will be talking, Paul has already made the case for vellum on BBC2's Newsnight.

We need to  Paul and Crowley’s to continue to have our Acts of Parliament printed on Vellum.

Write to you MP and talk part in the petition to have the MPs reconsider.

On line Petition to save vellum
To finish -  Why do we use vellum for some documents?  (Thanks to Paul Wright ) We use vellum for the same reasons  we use Bronze, Silver and Gold medals in the Olympics - we consider these things to be important , worthy of note so we use the finest materials available.

Sign the petition, write to your MP let’s keep the Acts of Parliament on vellum for future generations!

Saturday, 24 October 2015

The Black Tudors' Trail at Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge, Epping Forest

Queen Elizabeth Hunting Lodge (1589)
Visiting the Black Tudors’ trail  at Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge in Epping (Thu 1 Oct - Sun 1 Nov 2015) Forest was a fun day out with my friend and colleague Dr Miranda Kaufmann.

The fun started at the door where  we were greeted by a very welcoming & cheerful volunteer who invited us  to don Tudor caps to get into the spirit - which did and did!


The Black Tudors' trail consisted of cheerful, bright caricature cartoons by Joe Lillington accompanied by text by Sophie Lillington. To her great pleasure Miranda identified text coming from her web site - Miranda's book Black Tudors is due out next year. There were also quotes from  Onykea’s work on the subject - Blackamoores: Africans in Tudor England Their Presence Status and Origins, which I have reviewed in this blog.


The brightness and cheerfulness of  the Black Tudor images by Joe contrasted sharply with the only human figure portrayed in the house that of the figure of a servant in front of the fire. His role wasn’t clear - maybe his job was to keep the fire - but his filthy, ragged appearance and his dirty, grey cloths for footwear indicated he was not as happy as Joe’s smiling Black Tudors.

Peter Blackmore - Black Tudors' Trail Image
The only evidence we have for the actual existence of any Black Tudors are fleeting references found in official records of the day. For example Peter Blackmore that record is a 1522 military survey in the parish of St Petrock in Exeter, where he is listed as an ‘alien ….a moren born…..billman able for war  …who is worth nil in goods’ This brief, sketchy bio is expanded thru informed fabrication & conjecture based on the lives his contemporaries of whom more is known by  the exhibition’s researcher and illustrator to create Peter Blackmore’s image.

View from top floor
The building itself was well worth the visit for its spectacular views of Epping Forest. One could easily imagine the Queen and her entourage enjoying viewing  the hunt from the high vantage of the Lodge gives with its panoramic views of the forest below.

Dressing up 
On the first floor there was the opportunity to dress up in Tudor clothes. An excellent idea, as along with caps really put one in the mood as well as being a lot of fun.

Sadly, this fun day out for Black History Month 2015 is not as well known as it should be as Miranda and I only found out by accident, perhaps more could have been done on the web and through social media. Also there was no Black Tudor related merchandise on sale in the gift shop to support the event, sales opportunities missed perhaps.

Having said that in the space allocated a very reasonable introduction to the Black Tudors the exhibition was fun and its setting is very original. I shall certainly take Sophie up on her request for contributions to next year’s Black Tudors’ Trail.

Friday, 25 September 2015

The St Maurices at Magdeberg Cathederal


Finally made it to see the original St Maurice in Magdeburg Cathedral.

The post I  wrote was far too long so I've given the visit a page all of its own here on the BlackMagusBlog - The St Maurices at Magdeberg Cathederal


Monday, 27 July 2015

John Blanke, Henry VIII’s Black Trumpeter, Petitions for a Back Dated Pay Increase

John Blanke Detail from 1511 Westminster Tournament Roll
My post on Voices of the People on line symposium posts that look to recover the voices of people across a range of geographical and historical contexts  principally about early modern England:

John Blanke, Henry VIII’s Black Trumpeter, Petitions for a Back Dated Pay Increase


Saturday, 30 May 2015

God's Bottom on view in The Sistine Chapel ?

God creating the plants of the Earth
(Detail from UNRESTORED Sistine Chapel Ceiling)
Let me state up front I believe the Sistine Chapel to be THE greatest work of Western European art of all time - period. It is the ultimate fusion of painting, sculpture and architecture – a jaw dropping monumental magnificence,  an absolute joy, a delight to behold.

I’ve studied The Sistine Chapel for some time and found black presences on its walls  and in its tapestries but not in its ceiling or in its Last Judgment – until now.

However before I describe the possible new black presence let me share with you some something that has troubled me since I first started studying the Sistine Chapel – the presence of God’s bottom -  God disappearing  into the distance with his bottom in full view. As he creates the plants and trees:  bringing forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind Genesis 1:11.

There is no mention of that bottom in any of the Chapel’s literature I’ve read , the image is variously and tactfully described for example :
The figure of God that is seen from behind as He descends to create the plants of earth is …… disturbing  and mysterious. His hand , held out in a gesture of creation is drawn with a foreshortening as extraordinary as it is simple. [1]
The only other bottom that I know to be so prominent is any one the many to to be found in the works of the Baroque painter Fran├žois Boucher - for example his 1745 L'Odalisque.

Francois Boucher L'Odalisque 1745
The absence of discussion on God’s bottom is in complete contrast to the Last Judgement’s genitalia debate on the number of  penises on display. Discretion won that debate, as it concluded as soon as Michelangelo died in 1564 with most of the bottoms and genitalia in The Last Judgement being discreetly draped.

Methinks there are double standards at work here!

Pope Julius II's Master of Ceremonies Biagio de Casena
(Detail from The Last Judgement)
In the Last Judgment Michelangelo immortalizes the Vatican's Master of Ceremonies Biagio da Cesena who condemned The Last Judgment’s nudity. Michelangelo, angered at Cesena's criticisms, used his face for Minos, the god of the underworld, painting him with donkey ears and a snake with its body wrapped around  Cesean’s body biting his penis!

Michelangelo Self Portrait
(Detail for Sistine Chapel Ceiling)
Also the Sistine ceiling is packed full of what called Michelangelo his  ignudi aka the Classical nude male figure, including a young naked Michelangelo self portrait, his rumoured  homosexuality is well documented. Hence why I raise the question of possible double standards.

Detail from The Family of Darius before Alexander 1565-7,  Paolo Veronese
I had considered The Sistine Chapel’s God’s bottom to be a result of ageing, where the over painting  on a background image fades away with time from the corrosive effects of atmosphere, exposing the under lying background image. You can see this in the classical columns at the rear of Paolo Veronese’s 1565-7 The Family of Darius before Alexander ,which originally had a horse in front of the column, the  painting of the horse has faded over time allowing the background column to show through.

Similarly, God's bottom appearance might have been a result of the way Michelangelo was trained to paint. During the period one writer on how to paint described creating well proportioned figures in a pictorial space as follows - we first have to draw the naked body beneath  [the clothed figure], then cover it with clothes ..

Michelangelo Study for the drapery of the Erythraen Sybil

Above is a study by Michelangelo in which he clothes a naked  seated figure. So the underlying naked body might be revealed as the over painted clothes faded with time.

Even the restored image has that bottom clearly on display for all to see. Thus God’s bottom is not the result of fading, it is exactly as Michelangelo painted it.

God Creating the plants of the Earth
 (Detail from RESTORED Sistine Chapel Ceiling)
So Michelangelo has left us looking up God’s robe with his bottom in full view as he floats above us creating the plants of the earth, but please don't mention that bottom!

[1] Chastel, A, Okamura, T , The Vatican Frescoes of Michelangelo, Abbeville Press