This month, Frieze No.9 Cork Street presents the solo exhibition of ‘I Dare Not Appear’ by Christopher Myers until the 23rd of October. The project brings together the textile artworks of the American artist with personal letters written by Sarah Forbes Bonetta, a young Egbado girl gifted to Queen Victoria in 1850, to tell a story of race, identity and otherness.
Myers’s colourful tapestries, although depicting Bonetta’s life, are extremely personal, as they capture the artist’s feelings as an African-American man. He explores how the presence of Black people in Western culture is always regarded as something that only started existing in 1619 during the first slave trades, ignoring the centuries of preceding African culture that had already been exchanged through cultural exposure and trades.
Sarah Forbes Bonetta was a young girl bequeathed to Queen Victoria as a tribute by King Ghezo of Dahomey of Egbado, a tribe of South-West Nigeria (now called Yewa). Sarah was considered a gift, a beautiful and bright child that would be raised as the Queen’s goddaughter. In true Victorian English fashion, she was seen as a soul that had been “saved” by being blessed with proper education and civilisation, a colonial utopic dream of civilising the entire world to the mould of England. For Myers, the story of Forbes Bonetta is far from being an isolated case belonging to a distant past: it’s part of a tapestry, continuous and unbroken, of diasporic anxiety that still exists today.
The creative marriage of visual and written media, epistolary writings and tapestry, allows us to put an image to the words of Sarah Forbes Bonetta and words to the images of Christopher Myers. Two individuals separated by space, time and circumstance, of different ages, nationalities and sex, intertwine their experiences and complete each other’s work to express their stories of outcasted beings. Myers talks of a feeling of being “stuck in between”, of not belonging to a culture. It is this feeling that you can perceive in Bonetta’s mundane letters, when for example she gets worried about not having an appropriate dress for an event, as dresses are her disguise. This is her desperate attempt to fit in a universe that is not hers.
I recommend visiting the exhibition, as well as the many other galleries in Mayfair, St James’ and Soho here: https://www.galleriesnow.net/exhibitions/ london/
Reviewed by Céline Galletti- Celine is a volunteer writer for Abundant Art. Originally from France and Italy, she follows her passion for writing and art by studying Comparative Literature at UCL, London. As an international student living in London, she is determined to fully experience and understand the city’s vibrant arts scene, and be a part of its creative storm.