Veronica’s Veil / Tigers’ Tale, 2016–2018

Veronica’s Veil/Tigers’ Tale, 2016–2018

1. Tavern table, English, c. 1850
Metal-bound, double-plank, scrubbed-pine top with angle bracing stretchers, base retaining original painted surface
72.4 (h) x 137.8 x 53.0 cm

1.1 Ecclesiastical panel depicting “Veronica’s Veil,” South German, 17th century
Hand-carved walnut with traces of original polychrome, on a custom-made steel stand
60.3 (h) x 48.9 x 17.1 cm; height with stand: 67.9 cm

1.2 Ecclesiastical panel depicting “Veronica’s Veil,” South German, 17th century
Hand-carved wood with traces of original polychrome, on a custom-made steel stand
32.4 (h) x 26.0 x 3.8 cm; height with stand: 14 1/2 in., 37 cm

1.3 Miniature painting depicting the procession of Jesus to Calvary with Saint Veronica and her veil, European, early 17th century
Oil on agate with gilded highlights, in original hand-carved, gessoed and gilded wood frame, displayed under antique glass dome on a mahogany base
Frame: 17.1 (h) x 19.7 x 1.9 cm
Agate panel: 8.3 (h) x 10.8 cm
Glass dome: 22.9 (h) x 28.9 x 18.7 cm
Mahogany base: 2.2 (h) x 31.4 x 21.6 cm
Provenance: Sir George Martin Anthony Bonham, 5th Baronet, England (b. 1945)

2. Tavern table, English, c. 1740
Copper-bound, single-slab elm top on silhouette baluster trestle base
76.8 (h) x 198.8 x 57.2 cm

2.1 Sculptural child-form mask, English, c. 1870
Hand-modelled and painted terracotta, with black painted face, white eyes and red lips, on a custom-made steel stand
14.6 (h) x 9.5 x 7.0 cm; height with stand: 22.2 cm; display cube: 12.7 x 12.7 x 12.7 cm

2.2 Pastry jigger, Swedish, c. 1800
Pine and metal, with serrated metal wheel, on a custom-made steel stand
14.6 (h) x 7.0 x 1.3 cm; height with stand: 16.5 cm

2.3 Oversize safety pin, retailer’s trade sign, English, c. 1920
Functioning brass or steel spring mechanism and hand-shaped sheet-copper catch, with galvanized finish overall and historic mounting points, on a custom-made steel stand
8.9 (h) x 45.7 cm; height with stand: 29.2 cm

3. Folk-Art, tilt-top tripod table, Swedish, c. 1830
Scrubbed alder wood circular top, cleated by two bearers to the underside and of swing action, on twin-baluster turned and painted alder wood stem terminating on painted pine silhouette bird-form tripod base
67.3 (h) x 71.8 x 73.7 cm

3.1 The Story of Little Black Sambo, Helen Bannerman (née Watson, Scottish, 18621946), Grant Richards, London, 1899
Number four in the series The Dumpy Books for Children, edited by E. V. (Edward Verral) Lucas (English, 1868–1938)
57 pages, including 27 full-page illustrations by the author, engraved on wood and colour-printed by Edmund Evans (English, 1825–1905)
Two first edition issues
13 x 8.3 x 1.3 cm

3.2 After George Stubbs: “Tiger,” 2018
Facsimile colour pigment print of original painting by George Stubbs (English, 1724–1806), on stretched canvas in replica hand-gilt wood and plaster frame
Original painting: oil on canvas, c. 1769–1771, in period gilt frame
Printed canvas: 61.4 (h) x 72.9 cm
Replica frame: 81.3 (h) x 93.3 x 4.4 cm
The original framed painting is in the Paul Mellon Collection of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia, USA
Digital image courtesy of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

The journey through Death to Pigs begins with the iconography of the two intertwined narratives in Veronica’s Veil/Tigers’ Tale. One is an uncertain adult construct from a central belief system that has historically been an arena for acceptance and rejection; the other is a story for children celebrating a child’s resourcefulness when faced with threatening forces. A boy must appease tigers to survive, just as the female in Blue Beard, another fairy tale, must master the threat of the domineering male.

This show is about the shifting power dynamics of victims and their oppressors, about the basic human struggle to survive against dangerous and often cruel odds and of the impact the struggle has on successive generations on both sides. The relationships may ebb and flow, perhaps undergoing radical reversals in which the wildest tigers may be tamed and caged. But the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion, sufferance and intolerance, remain constants through world history no matter how often or readily victims and victimizers may change their stripes.

There are vulnerable characters trying to survive throughout this exhibition, a wily menagerie of characters striving to fit in and thrive in their surroundings and societies. Not all succeed, but the drive to survive is a common impulse in all. Life is not a zero-sum game in which there are no winners and losers, and for most of us, the effort is to turn what we inherit from our parents and fashion it into something positive for our descendants.

The intertwined stories of Veronica's Veil/Tigers’ Tale also introduces us to the way Death to Pigs explores these themes in a non-linear, imagistic way, reflecting the way we are willing to suspend or amend belief to give order to our world and make sense of a situation we are trying to control. Over time these stories and fables, sometimes based on the flimsiest or most fantastical evidence, have assumed deep significance in our survival narratives.

The story of Jesus leaving an imprint of his face on the veil offered by Veronica on the Via Dolorosa is memorialized in the sixth of the 14 Stations of the Cross, although the first references to this legend are of much later date. The veil of Saint Veronica had become a revered object of veneration in the Catholic tradition by medieval times and it remains a central but controversial element of Christian reliquary. There are references to a purported original in the 7th century, and the accounts of later pilgrims and travellers have documented its passage and history. According to these, the veil travelled from Jerusalem to Kamulia in eastern Turkey, then Constantinople, Rome and Manoppello, Italy, where a Capuchin monastery currently guards a relic many believe is the veil described in the earlier accounts.

Helen Bannerman (née Watson, 1862–1946) was a Scottish author of children’s books, the best known of which, published in 1899, is The Adventures of Little Black Sambo. Bannerman was married to a doctor in the Indian Medical Service. The couple spent 30 years in British colonial India, raising a family of two girls and two boys. Bannerman wrote and illustrated Little Black Sambo as an entertainment for the two girls (born in 1893 and 1896). It has an Indian setting, and features local geography in references to the bazaar, jungle, tigers and “ghi” (butter). The success of the book encouraged Bannerman to produce further related titles, including The Story of Little Black Mingo (1902), The Story of Little Black Quibba (1902), The Story of Little Black Quasha (1908), The Story of Little Black Bobtail (1909) and The Story of Sambo and the Twins (1936). Almost all of Bannerman’s books are set in India, and most feature black characters related to the original Sambo figure.

Bannerman’s inspiration for Sambo, one of the characters in Death to Pigs using his wits to fight oppression, remains unclear. There is a similar character in the wildly popular 1895 children’s book by Bertha and Florence Upton, The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a “Golliwogg, which appears elsewhere in this exhibition. The dress of the Uptons’ Sambo clearly places him in the American black-face minstrel tradition, while Bannerman’s character, though brightly and colourfully dressed, is less easily identifiable nationally except for his skin colour and bright red lips. The origins of the “Sambo” name itself are not certain, with some sources suggesting it originated in Latin America as a term to describe offspring of mixed marriages. It was, however, also a relatively common name for slaves in America and appears in literature in works as diverse as William Thackeray’s 1847 Vanity Fair (the name of a bow-legged, black-skinned servant) and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 Uncle Tom’s Cabin (the name of one of Simon Legree’s overseers).

Yuill also cites another possible source first proposed by Selma G. Lanes in Down the Rabbit Hole: Adventures and Misadventures in the Realm of Children’s Literature (Atheneum, New York, 1971). Lanes notes some close similarities between the Sambo and a story in Struwwelpeter, Merry Tales and Funny Pictures for Children from 3–6 by Heinrich Hoffmann, first published in German in 1846 and translated into English just two years later. In a series of unlikely stories with fantastical illustrations, the book purports to teach children that bullying misbehaviour has consequences. In the Story of the Three Inky Boys, three unruly boys harass a “black-a-moor” taking a walk just as the tigers harass Sambo. A wise man tells the boys to stop, then punishes them by dipping them in a giant inkwell so they end up blacker than the “black-a-moor.” Lanes notes that the victim is like Sambo in an unlikely detail—he carries a green umbrella.

Bannerman also appears to have picked up rather than created the names of Sambo’s mother and father—Black Mumbo and Black Jumbo. The origins of the term “mumbo jumbo,” which has the sense today of meaningless discourse, is cited in early 18th-century explorer books as the name of an idol or spiritual figure in west African tribal cultures. In one account, Mumbo Jumbo was a figure with the authority to arbitrate disputes between women in polygamous households, and used by husbands to maintain control. It has been suggested that this African reference is also the source of the name of the elephant memorialized elsewhere in the exhibition in The Dead Jumbo. This derivation, however, remains uncertain, in part because the elephant was captured on the eastern side of the continent. An early 19th-century English dictionary of slang and sporting idioms that cites “Jumbo” as a term for a large, ungainly person is perhaps a more likely source for the elephant’s name; others have suggested the Zulu word, “Jamba,” which refers to a large package, is another possible source.

Though simple in conception and execution, Bannerman’s Little Black Sambo was a huge success when it was published in England, going through three reprints in 12 months after publication. In 1900, it had its first U.S. printing by New York-based Frederick A. Stokes, which purchased the American rights from Bannerman’s English publisher. The book became hugely popular in the U.S. through much of the 20th century, widely recommended on reading lists for young children and much imitated by other authors. Despite its Indian setting, Sambo was inevitably associated with black history and culture in the U.S., and attacked for reinforcing unacceptable racial stereotypes among young white readers while providing a demeaning model for young black children. Bannerman’s once-popular series would eventually be shunned by school systems and society at large as prejudiced.

While Bannerman was undoubtedly a product of her British colonial times, she had little experience of U.S. racial dynamics. Ironically, she gained no benefit from the immense popularity of her first book in America. Against advice, she had not retained copyright when she sold the book to her British publisher, which itself would profit when it quickly sold rights for U.S. distribution. “Many of the versions of The Story of Little Black Sambo published in the U.S. did not credit Bannerman as author,” Yuill notes, “and since the book was never copyrighted here in her name, she received no income from its U.S. sales.”