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Photograph - Clio (Portrait of Dorothea Smartt)
  • Clio (Portrait of Dorothea Smartt)
    Sulter, Maud, born 1960 - died 2008
  • Enlarge image

Clio (Portrait of Dorothea Smartt)

  • 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

  • Credit Line:

    Copyright Maud Sulter

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This photograph is from a series of portraits of creative black women by Maud Sulter, who is of Ghanaian and Scottish parentage. The series is called Zabat and shows each woman as one of the nine Greek muses. The word Zabat describes an ancient ritual dance performed by women on occasions of power, and her use of it signifies Maud Sulter's call for a repositioning of black women in the history of photography.

The model is the poet Dorothea Smart, here represented as Clio, the muse of heroic poetry and history.

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 pose are all retained but the image is transformed with African clothes, non-European objects and, most importantly, by the resolute black woman at its centre.

Physical description

Photograph of Dorothea Smart, represented as Clio, the muse of heroic poetry and history.

Place of Origin

Great Britain (probably, photographed)


1989 (photographed)


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

Materials and Techniques

Dye destruction print


Height: 122 cm, Width: 153 cm

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

'Clio' (Dorothea Smartt), dye destruction print, Zabat series, Maud Sulter, 1989

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

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; Black History; Portraits


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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