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Photograph - Calliope


  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (probably, photographed)

  • Date:

    1989 (photographed)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Sulter, Maud, born 1960 - died 2008 (photographer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Dye destruction print

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This photograph is from a series of portraits of creative black women by Maud Sulter, who is herself of Ghanaian and Scottish parentage. The series is called 'Zabat' and shows each woman as one of the nine Greek muses. This image is a self portrait of Sulter as Jeanne Duval, the mistress of Charles Baudelaire. Here she represents Calliope, the muse of epic poetry.

Maud Sulter produced the Zabat series for Rochdale Art Gallery in 1989, the 150th anniversary of the invention of photography. It was a direct response to the lack of a black presence at other celebratory events and exhibitions. Here we see the conventions of Victorian portrait photography under the command of a black woman photographer. The backdrop, props and seated pose are all retained but the image is transformed by the resolute black woman at its centre.

The title 'Zabat' also signifies Maud Sulter's call for a repositioning of black women in the history of photography: the word describes an ancient ritual dance performed by women on occasions of power.

Physical description

Photograph of Maud Sulter represented as Calliope, the muse of epic poetry. She is pictured draped in black fabric, seated by a table with a small cased photograph on it.

Place of Origin

Great Britain (probably, photographed)


1989 (photographed)


Sulter, Maud, born 1960 - died 2008 (photographer)

Materials and Techniques

Dye destruction print


Height: 140 cm framed, Width: 116 cm framed, Depth: 4.5 cm framed

Historical context note

Maud Sulter works with photography as well as video and installation. Amongst her recent projects has been a series of allegorical portraits of contemporary black women which used conventional studio techniques along with the trappings of historical displays. Sulter also uses a variety of conventions from portraiture - from 18th century costume to heavy Victorian frames. The contrast between these anachronistic and aristocratic styles and the actual histories of her sitters is used to poetic effect and also raises questions about the nature of 'national' heritage.

Descriptive line

'Calliope', dye destruction print, Zabat series, Maud Sulter, 1989

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Kingsley, Hope with contributions by Riopelle, Christopher Seduced by art : photography past and present London: National Gallery, 2012
Katy Barron, Looking In. Photographic Portraits by Maud Sulter and Chan-Hyo Bae. London: Ben Uri Gallery, 2013. ISBN: 978-0-900157-42-4.

Subjects depicted



Photographs; Portraits; Black History


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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