We are thrilled to introduce you to Alayo, the Cambridge University, History of Art student behind the illuminating Instagram account, 'A Black History of Art’.
Through ‘A Black History of Art’, Alayo highlights overlooked Black artists, sitters, curators and thinkers from Art History and the present day.
Tell us a bit about you and how you started the Instagram account 'A Black History of Art'
I am from Lagos, Nigeria and I am currently studying for a BA in History of Art at the University of Cambridge. I started ‘A Black History of Art’ about a year ago in February 2020, as a result of my frustration with the lack of black representation in my degree. The page was my attempt to self-educate, I didn’t expect it to garner this much attention at the start, certainly not this quickly, but I’m so glad that people see the importance of filling this gap in art history!
When did you first realise that there was such a large gap in the representation of Black women artists in taught 'History of Art'?
I think my realisation came in my first year at university, when no black artists were discussed. I took a contemporary art module around this time last year and I was finally introduced to a few Black artists as part of my degree, and this spurred me on to make the page too because I didn’t want my knowledge of black artists to be limited to the four or five we had studied.
Where would you recommend as a starting point for learning about Black women artists?
‘We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85: A Sourcebook’ is the exhibition catalogue of the landmark exhibition of the same title, and is a great starting point. Bear in mind though that this is only a 20 year period of history in America! There are lots of books about specific artists from many periods - I have a reading list in the @ablackhistoryofart bio which is full of recommendations.
To what extent do you see jewellery as a form of communication both personally and in art?
Personally I see the jewellery I wear as a form of defence… a friend told me that “wearing lots of gold jewellery” is my defining feature. I use it to distract from my mood and lift my spirits. Earrings in particular do this for me, probably because I have worn them my whole life, as I have had my ears pierced since I was a baby in keeping with tradition in Nigeria. In art I think jewellery normally conveys a sense of elegance and regality - paintings that come to mind are: Eleonora of Toledo and her Son by Bronzino and all of Mickalene Thomas’ portraits.
What are the main things you look for in jewellery?
I like things that are unique in their own right rather than generic.
What’s your most worn/favourite item of jewellery?
A set of gold bangles from mecca that my grandmother was given as a gift, which she then passed down to my mum who passed them down to me - I only wear 3 because the whole set makes a lot of noise!
Silver or Gold?
Hoops or Studs?
Hoops - like Sade’s signature chunky gold ones.
Who is your favourite woman from history and why?
Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, the revolutionary Nigerian women’s rights activist and mother of the musician Fela Kuti.
If you could hang one piece of art in your living room, regardless of price, size etc, what would it be?
I always choose this one: Portrait of Madeleine [formerly known as portrait d’une negresse], 1800, by Marie Guillemine Benoist.