The John Blanke Project : A psychic reintegration of a male musician
This is a celebratory art history project dedicated to the black court trumpeter, John Blanke who was one of the lead trumpeters to the English Tudor courts of Henry VII and Henry VIII in the sixteenth century.
John Blanke, considered a ‘blackamoor’ and as a slave to Britain, probably landed in Plymouth with Catherine of Aragon’s multiracial entourage. Yet the two sixteenth century images in the original Westminister Tournament Roll of 1511 were caricatures of a black man. With this in mind, Ohajuru has commissioned various contemporary black British artists to claim ownership of Blanke and to re-imagine his Black British status as a talented musician.
For example, artist, Fowokan, deftly acknowledges Blanke as the forefather of great line-up of black American trumpeters from Louis Armstrong to Wynton Marsalis, as a jazz trumpeter. Alternatively, there is the meditative silent energy of the unflinching gaze of a head portrait by Paul Dash in charcoal. The brilliant invention strategy of using the medallion – the currency of ownership - and incorporating a side-on profile of a handsome, strong and dignified John Blanke, in commemoration by Eugene Palmer is very powerful. We are also treated to an elegant full-length portrait of Blanke by exceptionally talented, Kofi. Positioned sideways on, facing the viewer, book in hand to show that he is literate and in full Elizabethan garb, rehabilitates him into a recovered history. This royal employee is portrayed proudly with the scarification of his West African heritage on his cheeks and with an African mask incorporated into the carved legs of the table.
To my mind this project beautifully sums up what Blanke symbolises: a psychic reintegration of a male musician torn from his African roots into his naturalised English self. This is a poignant migration story using the power of art and history.
Rovianne Matovu MA
Art Historian of African Art and Black British Art History
3 October 2016