In her photographic series “Too Many Blackamoors,” British-Ghanian artist Heather Agyepong deconstructs images of Sarah Forbes Bonetta by assuming Bonetta’s identity for a series of portraits.
Sarah Forbes Bonetta, a black woman who lived during the Victorian era is best known as the goddaughter of Queen Victoria. Born as “Aina” in Nigeria in 1843, Bonetta was orphaned at the age of 8 following the massacre of her family in a slavery-related conflict. Bonetta was given to a British naval officer who presented her The Queen as a gift. She was renamed and adopted and received a formal education.
At the age of 19, Bonetta was coerced into marrying Captain James Pinson Labulo Davies, a Nigerian businessman. The couple had three children, and Bonetta passed away in 1880, at the age of 37.
The story of Sarah Forbes Bonetta is often reduced to a mere portrait and a few lines of historical fact. Bonetta’s image is often reduced to a quirky iconographic representation of what most black women didn’t look like at the time.
Photographer Heather Agyepong plays with and deconstructs this singular representation by slipping into an identity similar to that of Bonetta’s. Agyepong draws from her own experiences as a black woman as well as the “strong, independent, black female” narrative that is often placed on black women.
The project’s title “Too Many Blackamoors” is derived from an open letter sent by Queen Elizabeth to the mayor of London, as well as officials from neighboring towns, declaring that too many people of African descent had been brought into England.