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For Sarah, The African Princess

This  series is my rendering of the life of Sarah Forbes Bonetta (1843-1880). Born Aina, she was a titled member of the Yoruba people of West Africa, orphaned by war and enslaved to a Dahomean king. She was given to a British merchant who in turn offered her as a ‘gift’ to Queen Victoria, who presented Bonetta to British society as her goddaughter. As Victoria was one of the first to embrace photography, the photos of Sara Forbes Bonetta in the Royal Photographic Archives became visual evidence that she actually existed.

The archival images of Sarah Forbes Bonetta depict a young black woman of high rank, dressed in the latest bright Victorian fashions of her social standing. They offer none of the inner turmoil she must have felt as someone who was stolen from her homeland and brought to Europe, where she would constantly be viewed as an outsider. Ten years ago, I paid tribute to this then unknown and hidden figure in European history, emphasizing her dual personality in lush light and contrasting black satins that promote ideas of regality.

The sitter I chose is Kajote Barbara from Uganda, as in her life, there are a number of modern-day synchronic parallels and similarities to Sarahs story. Kajote was orphaned at a very young age and was chosen to represent Uganda for Miss Uganda 2011. She moved to Europe and experienced difficulties fitting in.

My artistic process involves meticulous ongoing research and execution. My research on the legacy of  Sarah Forbes Bonetta also led me to Bonetta's grave in the English cemetery in Funchal, Madeira. After years of searching, I found and connected with her next of kin, and in the coming years I will publish additional materials relating to Bonetta's life.

(preview & installations below)

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