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Robyn Marsack

Born in New Zealand, date unknown

Robyn Marsack was responsible for writing one of the only obituaries on Maud Sulter, after she died on 27 February 2008. Surprisingly perhaps, her death went relatively unremarked. One of the only obituaries on Sulter was this one, from the Herald, Glasgow, March 22, 2008, written by New Zealand-born Robyn Marsack. The obituary was accompanied by an uncredited portrait of Sulter, standing, her rest resting between two self portraits, in a gallery. The exhibition in question could well have been Jeanne Duval | A Melodrama, a major exhibition by Sulter, held at National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 30 May - 31 August, 2003.

The obituary opened with, “Maud Sulter, who has died after a long illness aged 47, was an extraordinarily gifted visual artist, writer, playwright and cultural historian.” It continued, “…Sulter’s subsequent presentations gained her international recognition: she was awarded the British Telecom New Contemporaries Award 1990 and the Momart Fellowship at the Tate Gallery Liverpool in 1990. She wrote and lectured extensively on art history, focusing on women’s art practice from the mid-nineteenth to the early-twentieth centuries.

Notable works by Sulter include Zabat (1987; London, V&A), a series of Cibachrome photographic portraits of contemporary black artists, musicians and writers, posed as a theatre of ancient muses; Syrcas (1994; Wrexham and Portfolio Gallery, Edinburgh), a set of montages and texts linking the horrors of African slavery with the European persecution of minorities in the 1930s and 1940s; Jeanne Duval: a melodrama (2003; Scottish National Portrait Gallery). This last was a series of self-portraits as Baudelaire’s muse, Jeanne Duval, recovering an almost invisible presence in a way that only Sulter could have carried off, with her beauty, sensuality, confidence and ability to dramatise a situation.

…As well as her academic writing, she published several collections of poetry: As a Blackwoman (1985), which won the Vera Bell Prize for poetry that year; Zabat (1989); and Sekhmet (Dumfries & Galloway Council, 2005); and a play about Jerry Rawlings, Service to Empire (2002). “I often address issues of lost and disputed territories, both psychological and physical,” she wrote in 1994. “The central body of my poetic work is unequivocally the love poetry which is addressed to both genders.” Sekhmet begins with a roll-call of love and gratitude to friends, lovers, family across the world, to medics, and to the ancestors, “who walked beside me when I needed them most and carried me forward when the terrain was too rough but never absolve me of the responsibility for my own life and identity”.”

Marsack, a Glasgow resident, has been Director of the Scottish Poetry Library since 2000. After moving to Scotland in 1987, she worked as a freelance editor, critic and translator.

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Obituary relating to an individual, 2008