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22 January – 24 April 2022

The Scottish-Ghanaian artist Maud Sulter (1960 – 2008) created her iconic series Zabat in 1989. The works were commissioned by Rochdale Art Gallery to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the invention of photography and were presented in a solo show titled Photoworks: Zabat: Poetics of a Family Tree.

The photographs depict contemporary Black women artists, writers, performers and activists, dressed as the nine Greek Muses. The series, which the artist called a ‘diasporan family portrait’, challenges the invisibility of Black women in art history. The photographs subvert the usual representations of women in Western art and highlight the connections between European and African histories and cultures.

Each of the sitters represents a Greek Muse. Dorothea Smartt, a literary activist, artist and poet portrays Clio, the Muse of history. Ysaye Maria Barnwell, a singer in the gospel ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock, depicts Polyhymnia, the Muse of sacred song. Poems accompany the portraits and tell the stories of real or imagined historical women. Sulter includes dialects and misspellings to reflect the politics of the Black arts movement, as well as of lesbian and feminist activism.

This display includes seven of the nine photographs in the Zabat series, on loan to us from public and private collections from around the UK.

The exhibition is touring from the New Hall Art Collection at Murray Edwards College, Cambridge.

Take a virtual tour of the exhibition: