A Silent Dedication: A Lecture on African Body Art – Ebony Francis

“I spoke with my eyes but no sound came out. My lips moved to the words that were never said because I never spoke aloud.”

-Diary of a black Tree


On the 15th January 2017 I was at the TATE Exchange. Yeah if you look in the picture, look, see that’s me!

Ebony Francis speaking at the Tate Exchange Jan 2017

Ebony Francis speaking at the Tate Exchange Jan 2017


In the beginning there was the plan – a lecture on African Body Art, by Ebony Francis! But by the time all the emails and the Instagram and Facebook and the hashtags came out I knew that I hadn’t made the cut.

Rejection, the artist’s crush.

Maybe my proposal was rubbish, was my first thought, maybe too black, my second. I can live with that, blue dots in a red sky too damn obvious I thought. And so it was before I had come to send it and re-send it again, maybe he just didn’t receive it, maybe he just didn’t like it, maybe no one would like it, and on and on and on.

Students from all over vied for an opportunity to occupy the 5th floor of the TATE all attempting to provide the ultimate “alternative” art school experience. More fun, more spontaneous, more egalitarian and of course more free. I was an artist at THE TATE, the big words centre stage of websites, snap chats and blogs would read.

I thought then that it was never gonna happen, those big words and me.


Ebony Francis

Ebony Francis


Fortunately, I do not lay down gently. I wave my arms in protest. So I sent it again like he said, then after that I went over his head till my email inbox said, you’re in!

Exhausted and deflated but still undefeated, I went, I couldn’t turn down this opportunity. The night before I ruminated, the chance had been given to me. I had got what I had asked for, I had found a voice and someone had heard it, my lecture on African Body Art, finally.

Yet still elated I could not resolve it, my disappointment, because no one would know it, no one would see. Because Facebook did not know it, nor Instagram, or WhatsApp. No GIFF or poster or e-vites, no “Diary of a Black Tree”. And so then it was decided, well then no one shall hear it, no one shall hear it but me.

But now here I was, and here they were, waiting expectantly.

I wondered how long they would sit there, waiting, watching, me speak with no sound. I would show them slides, pictures images of what my art school would be. The actual lecture I had planned I would read, with presence and purpose, passionately. Pages and pages of artists without art school, artists who we never see, plait hair and torn skin, red earth bodies, heads wrapped, beaded necks, plates in lips and earlobes thin.


©Ebony Francis

I stood there daring for someone to confront me, “excuse me could you speak up please” but no one did, one lady cranked her neck over slightly, but no one did. Faces grimaced and eyes popped till they exploded with curiosity, my art school was existing outside of me, even though no one could hear it.

By the time I got to the end and my last slide read…

©Ebony Francis

©Ebony Francis


…the cheer and clap had confirmed it, yes you made it, the Massai, the San, the Dogon, the Nuer, the clans, the flowers, the paint and the feathers, they had made it and even though no one heard it for the first time that I had observed it, in an art school they were seen. Not as objects, inspiration and holiday snaps but as innovators, creative, artistic, legitimate concept creators, the original art maker beings.

©Ebony Francis

©Ebony Francis


They were my coaches, and my teachers, my cultural memory generators, they were my art school, and whilst the applause was reserved for me, I sent it, over seas and through the noiseless, quietly rejoicing my silent lecture and me.


By Ebony Francis aka Diary of a Black Tree