Many millennials believe that the aristocratic class in the 17th century United Kingdom was the preserve of the white majority. When people of African descent entered the picture, the assumption was that they were enslaved or belonged to the commoners. This gap in black representation of nobility is being addressed by artists such as Glory Samjolly in collaboration with the English heritage. During the medieval era, there was a pool of black aristocrats who were simply ignored or hidden.
One of these notable black aristocrats was The story of Chappell, who served a 17th-century aristocrat in rural England, is featured in her work. He was 15 years old when he was brought to life with the Hattons of Kirby Hall in 1663. He rose to prominence after saving his owner, Christopher Hatton, from a fire in Guernsey. He received £20 per year when he went on pension. The stories of Chappell are being told to inspire the current generation for reasons such as this, according to the Guardian.
The Black Aristocratic art project, which began in 2007, has been documenting these personalities’ experiences and attempting to record their significance in the historical record. The hope is that by using art to hold their attention and engage their thoughts, young people will learn about these black British figures.
The project, dubbed “Painting Our Past,” also features historical figures such as Septimius Severus, the black Roman emperor, Sarah Forbes Bonetta, who became Queen Victoria’s protege, and Dido Belle, a mixed-race woman raised in an aristocratic family in Georgian London.
Though the project’s goal was to raise black consciousness in the public eye, events such as George Floyd’s death have given it a boost. Matt Thompson, head collections curator at English Heritage, believes that it is past time to unearth these suppressed histories. If the story of England is told, it should not be from a narrow perspective; it should include the larger picture and the role of black aristocrats. According to Matt, if this story is not told, the significance of this social reality will be diminished.
To broaden its appeal among its audience, the art is being focused on positive stories about the places where the black figures lived. As much as the participants in these projects believe that their work will not be accepted by everyone, they are excited that it is founded on research, knowledge, and scholarship.