|Blackamoor figurines available for sale on Richard Trautwein's Etsy shop, ToysnSuch.|
So, this Black History Month Monday, I decided to do a little research about Blackamoor figures and answer some questions once and for all.
According to Wikipedia (yeah, I know some like to diss the Wik, but I’m not one of those), in its most general sense, a Blackamoor is a depiction of a black African figure. Many times these figures are wearing some sort of headpiece and often they are adorned with jewels. Blackamoor as a decorative art form goes back centuries, at least as early as the seventeen hundreds.
But some people have serious objections to these depictions. Dolce & Gabbana was criticized as racist for the inclusion of Blackamoor images and jewelry in its Spring 2013 collection. When the fashion website Refinery29 reported on the story, commenter fakefighter responded, “And as per usual they featured NOT ONE black model this season, which had 87 looks! Black people are apparently not actual people, but motifs to be fetishised in clothing.” Even though I personally find many of these images quite striking, I think this commenter has a point.
Racialicious author Rama Musa posted an excellent article on the European obsession with African figures in which she wrote, “As early as the 1200s, African servants played a fashionable role in European courts. Rare, exotic, and expensive, their black bodies became synonymous with luxury.” Okay, this is getting a little creepy. She continued, “Marchesa of Mantua Isabella d’Este (1474-1539) went through extraordinary lengths to procure African children as human accessories.” Now it’s official. As one of my good friends would say, “What the food truck?”
But you know what? The human figure has long been portrayed in the arts. As I write this posting, I’m wearing a cameo bracelet depicting Victorian ladies. I know the historical significance isn’t the same, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and state that the artisan who crafted my antique bracelet very likely had in common with the artisans who crafted these Blackamoor figures a love of beauty and the desire to capture that beauty in art. It may be self-serving, but I could see myself purchasing one of these pieces (not those by high-end jewelers like Cartier that cost a gazillion dollars, mind you) and reclaiming it as an intriguing and beautiful portrayal of an African figure that has meaning for me because my ancestors were African.
What do you think? Should Blackamoor jewels and statutes be reviled or celebrated as lovely pieces of art?