Tavares Strachan Reframes 'The Last Supper' at London's Royal Academy

Featuring 12 Black historical figures, from Harriet Tubman and Matthew Henson to Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia.

Art
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Bahamian artist Tavares Strachan worked with London’s Royal Academy of Arts to unveil a new public sculpture entitled The First Supper (Galaxy Black) (2023). The artwork is part of the ongoing exhibition, Entangled Pasts, 1768-now, featuring over 100 contemporary and historical works that spark dialogues about how art has been used to shape colonial narratives and how it can be utilized to change the future.

Clearly inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper (1495–1498), Strachan casts 12 Black historical figures in bronze — from the abolitionist Harriet Tubman and explorer Matthew Henson, the first Black US congresswoman Shirley Chisholm to gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, as well as placing former Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, in place of Jesus Christ in the center.

On view at the courtyard of the institution, the sculpture invites visitors to immediately reflect on the past — “one that doesn’t necessarily center Europe, modernism or any -ism that is not indicative of us,” noted Strachan in a statement. “I think it’s important for us to have an archive of the stories of our folks.”

Strachan is known for a quite nebulous practice. From neon signage to Carrera marble sculptures to an encyclopedia, the New York-based artist mines images at the intersection of art, science, history and politics, to comment on colonialism and the Black experience. Underpinning his work is a desire to exploit ‘absolute truths’, such as those set forth within religious doctrines, in an attempt to forge connections between humanity. “For me: painting, sculpture, mathematics, science, politics and what you’re doing — fashion, design, clothing, they’re all pieces of a larger story that we are telling as humans,” Strachan previously told Hypeart.

Entangled Pasts, 1768-now will be on view in London until April 28.

Royal Academy of Arts
Burlington House,
Piccadilly, London W1J 0BD

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