Adele Patrick views Maud Sulter’s Zabat and Transatlantic Dialogues from the UK and




the USA.

Talking Muses

Two exhibitions of photography by black artists are coinciding. Adele Patrick looks first at Glasgow-born Maud Sulter’s re-interpretations of the Muses, then visits Edinburgh

for a group show of disparate work from the USA and the UK.

Nine black women encircle the walls of the Streetlevel Gallery. Each figure is participating in the symbolic imaging of her life history, making a statement about her own creativity and power through her portrait. Their diverse voices - Alice Walker, Lubiana Himid, Ysaye Maria Barnwell, musician. anthropologist, writer— create ‘an occasion of power‘. Disparate voices form a chorus from the black women's diaspora. The portraits do not enourage us to consume complacently the representations of black women; they succeed simply within the terms of their own self-imagery. Each look is a confrontation with the unequivocal evidence of photography‘s white, patriachal history. Photography is after all Fine Art. it too has sought to colonise and misrepresent the body and the mind ofwomen. and in particular the black woman.

The artist Maud Sulter reveals in ‘Terpsichore‘ and ‘Calliope’ that photography can only be seen to reflect contemporary culture. Photography evades reality. Her recognition of early evidences of blackwomen ‘caught’ (and erased) within the 150 years of photographic history is clear in the choice of ornamental frames and in the frank inclusion of artifice (the pompadour white wig, the posed draperies.)

Part of this purposeful reclamation of black women in photographic history, as sources of inspiration and as creators themselves, has give rise to a collaboration between the-artist and sitter to create new muses. Each portrait reflects an image of black women asserting their own power and that invested in earlier symbolic precedents. Symbols and objects worn, carried and used by the women (scarab, drum, anhk) and the iconic status of the ‘muse‘ conjured up by the large scale and strong colour underscore this reading of the assertion of strength of black women, and past (and present) suppression of creativity.

Maud Sulter's purpose is not to fix her strategies in the past, as Benjamin Buchloh

Temsichore by Maud Sulter, at Glasgow's Street Level gallery.

would have it. ‘necrophilic‘ postmodernism. Her exhibition, the third part of three linked projects, her work with Lubiana Himid and Urban Fox Press and her novel, ‘Necropolis’ set in Glasgow, reveal and recreate the prescence of a black woman‘s experience within and across a white cultural landscape. Her task is inevitably as broad as the span of history and geography that she marks here. from ancient Egypt to Glasgow 1990. Six black photographers show at Stills Gallery. ‘Transatlantic Dialogues’ is a somewhat misleading title for an exhibition where almost no correspondences, however subtle, appeared to be taking place between the three UK photographers and their US-based counterparts. Nevertheless. I enjoyed being thrown from Hastings to Puerto Rico and finding myself in the eclectic excesses of Auntie Linda‘s parlour. Maxine Walker‘s photographs of this formidable home are thick with detail and meaning (gold doilies. figurines ofwhite characatures, black

family photos, Spangled bullrushes. trompe l‘oeil wallpaper. . .). Any impertinent voyeurism is checked by the final image. that ofAuntie Linda. sublime and appearing in total possession of her space.

Ingrid Pollard continues to examine the racism ofBritish culture (on this occasion. The Britiin Seaside). The work ofCharles Biasiny-Riycra and Mikki Ferrill mark explorations of the junctions and clashes ofculture and colonialism. metaphor and the totemic (black cowboys and their lifestyle documented over 15 years. apocalyptic storefronts in the Bronx). but each clearly requiring and deserving an independent exhibition. Colin Cavers. coordinator. is keen to show more work by Maxine Walker and the New York-based contributor. Darwoul Bey.

Maud Sulter’s exhibitor: Zabat a! the Street/eve] Gallery until 3 June. US UK Photography Exchange, Transatlantic Dialogues until 1 June at Stills Gallery, Edinburgh. J

The List 18— 3I May 199057