Ut Pictura Poesis: An evening of Poetry, Art and Art History
Hosted by the School of History and Heritage
The celebration of Black History Month 2020, at the University of Lincoln (UK), on 2 October, was a highly successful and a deeply moving event. It was the result of the determined decision by the organiser, Laura Fernández-González (Senior Lecturer, School of History and Heritage, UoL), of combining the artistic and the academic worlds. The title emerged from her belief in the power of images, written and visual, following the steps of Horace’s maxime, ‘as is painting, so is poetry.’ Her aim, however, was to show new work produced by the invited speakers, as a case study on how to construct an ‘anti-racist society’ through art, poetry, art and architectural history.
Her introduction was followed by the presentation of the speakers by the art historian Michael Ohajuru, a TV personality and director of The John Blanke Project; the activist poet and award-winning writer, Kadija Sesay read two poems that Michael commissioned from her as a response to my book, ‘Black but Human’. Slavery and Visual Art, 1480-1700 (Oxford: OUP, 2019). The first poem responded to the image Baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch and the second to the title of the book and to one illustration of the Miracle of the Black Leg. Her two poems were extremely powerful and they set up the emotional barometer of this event that was strengthened by the strong and topical work made by the artist Victoria Burgher. In her presentation, she showed 10 temporary works made with ‘colonial commodities’, like sugar and cotton, to ‘re-examine white-washed narratives of empire’. The speed and cascade of words and languages by international media activist and poet-educator Mark Thompson’s brilliant performance of his personal and historical poems, brought the energy and anger of the young. The last 20 minutes were dedicated to the conversation between Michael and I about my new book. We discussed the Afro-Hispanic proverb Black but Human and the visual representation of the Miracle of the Black Leg, as the metaphor of the violence of slavery and the appropriation of the black body; the portraits of the enslaved Juan de Pareja by Velázquez and Pareja’s self-portrait, as a freedman, in his painting The Calling of Saint Matthew.
The event generated so many questions from the numerous national and international attendees (students, academics, museums curators, filmmakers, artists, writers, among many others.) that time was not enough to address all of them. In the chat, the audience celebrated this event and asked for more events like this at the University of Lincoln. Mark and Kadija were moved by Victoria’s work and they have discussed the possibility of responding to her practice; Michael is keen in organising a Ut Pictura Poesis part 2 at some point probably on his YouTube channel, which is a wonderful outcome of Lincoln’s event. I was delighted to join Laura and her colleagues at the School of History and Heritage in this moving and successful event and look forward to more to come.
Carmen Fracchia, Art Historian, Professor in Hispanic Art History, Birkbeck, University of London
The organising team of Ut Pictura Poesis was:
Dr Laura Fernández-González, Dr Antonella Liuzzo-Scorpo, Dr Jon Coburn, Dr Melina Smirnou and Dr Pietro Di Paola from the School of History and Heritage (UoL)
This event was co-organised by the Global and Transregional Studies research group, the Race, Ethnicity and Equality Committee, & the Art History Programme from the School of History and Heritage; and generously supported by the HR Equality and Engagement Team from the University of Lincoln, UK