Mariane Ibrahim Gallery
608 Second Avenue
April 6 - May 20
In the photographs for this exhibition, Ayana V. Jackson takes on the role of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, a nineteenth-century Yoruba princess who, when she was only seven years old, became a goddaughter of Queen Victoria in the United Kingdom and remained close to her until Forbes Bonetta’s death in 1880.
Though several images of Forbes Bonetta still exist today, included here is a small copy of only one of them, in which she appears poised and reserved in a pale, elegant gown. Each of the seven self-portraits made by Jackson respond to and even undermine this archival image. Dressed in a white Victorian frock, the artist performs her interpretation of the princess’s more intimate and carefree self in front of white backgrounds. In each pose she introduces a new trait or narrative, invoking aspects of her subject’s identity while poking the colonizer’s eye. In S. Bonetta, 2016, for instance, she whimsically and transgressively lifts her dress to expose her shoes and legs. Keeping her eyes closed in every shot but one, the artist almost manages to erase herself. In Sarah Forbes, 2016, she sits still in a dark blue dress, staring at the viewer, in a scene reminiscent of a royal portrait, as if restoring the young woman to her own heritage.
By choosing this subject, Jackson resists the misrepresentation and erasure of this historical figure while simultaneously enlarging her practice and herself for what appears to be her most personal body of work.