Heather Agyepong

Too Many Blackamoors

“On 11 July 1596, Queen Elizabeth caused an open letter to be sent to the lord mayor of London and his aldermen, and to the mayors and sheriffs of other towns in the following terms:

Her Majesty understanding that several blackamoors have lately been brought into this realm, of which kind of people there are already too many here…her Majesty’s pleasure therefore is that those kind of people should be expelled from the land, and for that purpose instruction is given to the bearer, Edward Banes, to take ten of those blackamoors that were brought into this realm by Sir Thomas Baskerville on his last voyage, and transport them out of the realm. In this we require you to give him any help he needs, without fail.”
Extract: Staying Power, Peter Fryer (1984)

The work was inspired by a 19th century Carte-de-visite of Lady Sarah Forbes Bonetta. Sarah was the West African adopted goddaughter of Queen Victoria who came to live in England at a young age. The images are based on my own personal experiences as a young black woman, dealing with the macro and micro traumas of racism encountered while travelling around European countries. The format was based around Rosy Martin and Jo Spence’s ‘Re-enactment Phototherapy’. Too Many Blackamoors aims to challenge the ‘strong, independent, black female’ narrative that can burden and often entrap black women. With Sarah as my template, the project attempts to illustrate the effects of such perceptual limitations whilst exploring my own internal conflicts of falling short from such mainstream ideals.

The project was commissioned by Autograph ABP for The Missing Chapter supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Special thanks to Angela Dennis for her guidance during the project.

About the Artist

Artist Website

Heather has worked within photographic & performance arts since 2009 with a range of works that have been published, performed and exhibited around the UK and internationally. She was commissioned to produce a visual response to Autograph ABP’s The Missing Chapter project in 2015 with her series Too Many Blackamoors which was selected for the RPS International Print Exhibition 161. Her project The Gaze on Agbogbloshie & Habitus: Potential Realities have both been nominated for the Prix Pictet award in 2016 & 2018 and for the Foam Paul Huf Award 2017. In 2016, she was selected as Mashable’s top 10 female photographers devoted to social justice. Her work is part the Autograph ABP & Hyman collections. She has been commissioned by the Mayor of London, Photoworks & Tate Exchange. She has previously been an associate artist of Talawa Theatre and has performed in a number of plays across the UK. She was nominated for the 2018 Sky Arts South Bank Breakthrough award.