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By Annalie |

Peter Brathwaite – ‘Rediscovering Black Portraiture’ at The Higgins Bedford

The Virgin of Guadalupe’ re-creation by Peter Brathwaite (with photographic partner Sam Baldock) and the original artwork, right. Anon, ‘The Virgin of Guadalupe’. Oil painting, 1745. Wellcome Collection. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) / Cropped from original and colour saturated.

This May, The Higgins Bedford is delighted to present ‘Rediscovering Black Portraiture,’ a captivating exhibition of photographs and interventions by Bedford-based artist Peter Brathwaite. The display, which opens on Saturday 18 May and runs until January 2025, offers a thought-provoking exploration of Black representation in Western art history.

Brathwaite, an opera singer, artist, broadcaster, and writer, embarked on this project during the first COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. With performances cancelled, he turned his creative energy inwards, researching and reimagining over 100 artworks featuring Black subjects. This exploration stemmed from the online #GettyMuseumChallenge, which invited participants to recreate famous paintings using everyday household objects.

Brathwaite explained, “I began restaging Black portraits for the Getty Museum’s online COVID-19 lockdown challenge to re-create works of art using only what you had to hand at home”

“My take on this challenge makes visible the often-silent Black lives, pushed to the margins of Western art history. In these staged photographs I appear as both subject and object, recreating the pose in the historic picture.

“As an opera singer, I see each photographic re-staging as a performance; performances that riff on the stories of my own ancestors – both enslaved Africans and English enslavers in Barbados – and the Black figures who appear in portraits I choose to embody.”

Brathwaite’s artistic lens extends across the entire Higgins Bedford. Visitors will encounter reimagined Caribbean dolls and fresh interpretations of existing objects within the Victorian House. The Dressing Room showcases Brathwaite’s reimagined artworks alongside his personal reflections, while the Collectors Gallery features his captivating recreation of ‘The Paston Treasure’.

This 17th-century painting depicts the treasures acquired by the Norfolk-based Paston family, including exotic fruits, animals, and a meticulously dressed Black man. Brathwaite writes, “The depiction of this Black man represents a process of being dehumanised twice over – first as a piece of property, and then again because the scene is so far removed from his actual reality.” Through his own personal belongings, Brathwaite reimagines the painting, prompting conversation about the portrayal of objects and subjects within museum collections.

“We are thrilled to present ‘Rediscovering Black Portraiture’ at The Higgins Bedford,” Councillor Sarah Gallagher, Portfolio Holder for Leisure and Culture, said, “Peter Brathwaite’s work offers a powerful and thought-provoking exploration of Black representation in art history, prompting us to re-evaluate familiar narratives and celebrate the diversity within our collections.”

A series of exciting events will complement the exhibition throughout its run. Details will be announced soon on The Higgins Bedford website.

The Higgins Bedford is located on Castle Lane, Bedford, MK40 3XD. Entry to the exhibition is free, opening hours and further information can be found out on their page.

‘The Paston Treasure’ re-creation by Peter Brathwaite (with photographic partner Sam Baldock)

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