Even today, many narratives are whitewashed (e.g. Avatar: The Last Airbender, Star Trek: Into Darkness, etc.), and the stories of marginalized people outside the Western hemisphere are seldom told accurately, if at all. This is a problem that Warscapes attempts to correct by posting stories, poems, art and more generated from conflicts around the world. There is a pervasive (and inaccurate) idea within popular media and society that people of color did not exist in medieval Europe before the Enlightenment, spawning angry people that come out of the woodwork every time a Disney movie comes out that doesn’t have any people of color in it (Frozen), or when a black man is cast as a Norse god (Thor).
Fortunately, there are people working hard to combat these inaccurate (and let’s be honest, grounded in racism) views of the world. One such person runs a blog called “People of Color in European Art History” at Medieval POC. The blog is an extraordinarily good resource, providing pertinent links and images with every post. It points out uncomfortable instances of cropping out or painting over people of color in paintings, and connects such practices and realities to real world politics. It eviscerates the blatant racism behind the “controversy” of Black Madonnas. In a nutshell, the controversy is that the 300+ Black Virgins of Europe (statues) are not black because they are dark in color. Many argue that the Madonnas in question were painted dark not because the models were themselves black, but for various reasons ranging from quality of paint back then to “it just got dirty.”
The child in this painting, Giulia de’Medici, was painted over in the 19th century. Image via Medieval POC.
The person behind all this greatness is Malisha Dewalt, both a student and teacher of art history. She has been featured on NPR for the contents of her blog, and a quick perusal of her blog reveals that many use it as a source for academic endeavors. “This is not a ‘fringe theory,’” Dewalt says. And it isn’t.
What’s best about this blog, however, beyond its easily accessible interface, active and knowledgeable blogrunner, and general precision, is that it is unafraid to be confrontational. There is no sugarcoating of the issues here, no beating around the bush. The actions of people then and now who would obscure the art featuring people of color are roundly and unapologetically condemned. For that alone, Medieval POC should be applauded.
Namban Byobu (fragment). Edo period, Japan (c. 1590-1600). Image via Medieval POC.
In short, give this blog a read. You’ll find yourself learning far more than you would in a traditional art history class. And if you’re a person of color, you’ll find that people like you always were a part of the story of human history, even when representation has always been scarce.
Jason Wong is an editorial intern at Warscapes.