Research on the Art of Maud Sulter

Deborah Cherry has won a Grants for Arts award from Arts Council England for the research and development of an exhibition of the work of Maud Sulter.

Maud Sulter (1960–2008) was an award-winning artist and writer, curator and gallerist of Ghanaian and Scottish heritage who lived and worked in Britain. In the 1990s she exhibited widely and internationally in solo shows and group exhibitions, representing Britain at the Johannesburg Biennale of 1995. Today, her work is to be found in numerous private and public collections, including the Scottish Parliament, the Arts Council Collection, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Council Collection, the Scottish National Galleries, several regional UK galleries, and the National Portrait Gallery by whom she was commissioned in 2001 to photograph leading children’s writers.

Sulter’s significance lies in her pioneering innovation of photographic forms that interrogated the visual representation of black women. This sustained visual inquiry was pursued not through the more familiar routes of documentary or reportage. Sulter critically engaged with the western canon, the histories of art, photography and modernism to challenge the past and remake the future. Putting black women centrally within the frame, she often focusing on lost or neglected figures, as in her sustained series of image-making with Jeanne Duval in mind. Distinctive to her work is a preoccupation with movements between Africa and Europe over the past six centuries and more, the longevity and complexities of African diasporas in Europe.

Sulter won critical praise for her bold, experimental and exquisitely produced works with their sensual splendour and inventive image construction. Her later self-portraits were applauded for their beauty, sensuality, confidence and ability to dramatise a situation.

The research is collating the genealogies of practice that structured Sulter’s multilayered practice across still and moving image, sound and text, examining the connections between her practice and her activism in feminist and Black arts movements in Europe and North America.

The exhibition has been commissioned by Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow, in partnership with Autograph-ABP.

Deborah Cherry is Professor of Art History at London College of Communication, University of the Arts London, and Deputy Director of TrAIN, the university’s research centre on Transnational Art and Nation. Her most recent publication is The Afterlives of Monuments, South Asian Studies, spring 2013. She has written extensively on the art and curating of Maud Sulter.