Rosa-Johan Uddoh’s practice interrogates how representations of Blackness and Black people are constructed and performed in popular culture. Here she examines Balthazar, one of the earliest Black figures we’re introduced to at school, and one of three wise men or magi who followed a star and delivered gifts to the newborn Jesus. Paintings of Balthazar constitute some of the earliest popular representations of Black people in Europe.
In this collaged congregation, Rosa mobilises en masse portraits of Balthazar from historic paintings, challenging the cultural marginality of Black people and the ways contemporary popular culture reproduces and fixes ideas of their representation. The centering of Balthazar, who is no longer the sole Black person in the frame, amplifies the Black presence in pre-modern Europe and the Black sitters that informed these portraits. In this collating of multiple Balthazars we see that not all of them are the same. Rosa’s reassemblage gives them agency. Despite being a figure, whose identity has been shaped by the European gaze, Rosa presents Balthazar in a new world, amongst comrades, who see identity as fluid and in a constant process of becoming. In rejecting the status quo of Balthazar’s cultural representation, she performs an act of refusal and demonstrates the power of this in the liberation and renewal of Black identities.
About the artist
Rosa-Johan Uddoh is an interdisciplinary artist working towards radical self-love. She is inspired by Black feminist practice and writing. Through performance, writing and multimedia installation, she explores places, objects and celebrities in British popular culture, and their effects on self-formation.
Collaboration is key to Rosa's practice, often working with children, activists and other artists to explore themes that impact our communities and share knowledge.
With thanks to Nasra Abdullahi, who assisted Rosa with the research for this project.
Free| Am Ddim