Artist Uses 19th-Century Portraits to Break Down the ‘Strong Black Woman’ Stereotype.

Heather Ayepong, a London-based artist, used the story of Sarah Forbes Bonetta to break down the strong Black woman stereotype.

Sarah Forbes Bonetta, born in 1843, was a princess of the Egbado clan of Nigeria’s Yoruba people. When she was 4 years old, her family was killed when British slave-traders invaded.

Bonetta survived, and a British commander suggested Bonetta be given to the Queen of Victoria as a “diplomatic gift.”

“She would be a present from the King of the Blacks to the Queen of the Whites.”

-Fredrick Forbes

Bonetta ended up spending the rest of her life among the British middle class. Her life was portrayed as a fairy tale, and she is depicted as happy and lucky to be saved to live in a life of British luxury.

When Ayepong read Bonetta’s story, it made her critical of how the portraits portrayed Bonetta.

“How can a black woman living in Victorian Britain within the realms of aristocracy have such an pleasant experience?…“Her portraits reminded me of the way some black women feel they need to compose themselves in such a way that suits others but not ourselves.”

Ayepong felt connected to Bonetta, largely around Ayepong’s treatment of being a Black woman.

“I could be wearing a huge polo, wool jumper, boyfriend jeans and trainers and some creep would still look at me like a prostitute,”

Ayepong began to wonder if Bonetta suffered the same struggles that she does, such as pretending “things were alright when they weren’t,” which brings up the strong black woman stereotype. This is what inspired Ayepong to create this project. Through her art, Ayepong inserts herself into Bonetta’s life and re-creates the 19th-century portraits with her own image.

“I reimagined my own struggles, worries and insecurities onto Bonetta in order to allow myself to reflect, relive and possibly heal from those traumas,” Agyepong said. “I also really wanted other black women to share the experience with me, maybe evoke a cathartic experience whilst looking at the images to encourage a dialogue not just between others but between themselves.”

Via Huffington Post