Arts & Culture

Peter Brathwaite Reimagines Black Art In New Book ‘Rediscovering Black Portraiture’


During the pandemic, opera singer Peter Brathwaite could no longer perform, so he chose to channel his creativity through the medium of photography by joining Getty’s Museum Challenge

The playful challenge, which thousands participated in, was to recreate your favorite art by using objects found around the house. Brathwaite took this challenge to heart and not only replicated a single work, but reimagined more than 100 artworks featuring Black subjects throughout history.

More than 50 of his striking and whimsical recreations have been curated for his new book in collaboration with Getty Publications titled Rediscovering Black Portraiture

In the book’s introduction, Brathwaite said he has always been interested in discovering people who looked like him in the classical canon of art. He notes that as a Black British opera singer, he too is used to being “a rare breed.” 

The catalyst for Brathwaite’s quest to uncover Black sitters within classical art stemmed from a disconcerting experience during an opera production where he was asked to use white face paint to portray an 18th-century French aristocrat.

“That episode with the whiting up was definitely something that made me want to really go out there and find high status black men from that period. And I was determined to do that at that point, in that experience because I just couldn’t understand the insistence that my face should be whitened to fulfill this vision,” he said. “I think there is this preconception that if we see images from a certain period, the black subject is definitely enslaved and definitely low status.”

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Left: Don Miguel de Castro: Emissary of Kongo, ca. 1643. Right: Re-creation by Peter Brathwaite (with photographic partner Sam Baldock). © Peter Brathwaite

Rediscovering Black Portraiture aims to demonstrate that Black people have always existed in art, and that they are elemental to the past, present, and future of art. The Black portraits in the collection range from medieval Europe through the present day. Featured artworks 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 more.

“I think the most important thing for me in that respect was making sure that there was a broad range so that people can understand that Black subjects, people of color from all walks of life have been portrayed in Western art, whether we’ve seen them or not. So it’s very much about debunking myths and stereotypes and asking us to look again,” said Brathwaite. 

An exhibition of Brathwaite’s re-creations is currently on view at the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery in Bristol, UK through September 3, 2023.Purchase a copy of Rediscovering Black Portraiture at the Getty Museum Store.

Ayanna Nicole

Hi! I’m Ayanna, a writer and artist. Although I graduated from The University of North Carolina at Charlotte with two degrees in art and psychology, I’ve had a passion for writing for as long as I can remember. By following my dreams and utilizing my creativity, I designed Jaro Magazine with the ultimate intention of bringing more positive stories in the black community to the forefront, while also highlighting our versatile and vibrant culture through Jaro’s four modes: film, books, art, and music. I also manage a book hub, which you can find on Instagram @bloomingliterature.

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