The Life of Sappho
Inspired by the iconic 19th century painting “The Death of Sappho,” by Miguel Carbonel Selva, this digital painting celebrates the vibrancy of Sappho’s work, and the legacy she left behind. Perched on a cliff’s edge with her lyre at her side, Sappho is no longer on the brink of death, but reciting to the open air. While Carbonel Selva’s work emphasized the setting sun, here, Sappho is bathed in morning light. The colours encircling her are the colours of the lesbian pride flag, symbolizing her importance to the history of the LGBTQIA+ community.
As a writer and an artist, I am continually seeking the past through the present. I like to examine themes of memory, identity, and history together as a way to build connection and to celebrate progress. This is especially true of my painting, ‘The Life of Sappho.’ For much of Western history, female and LGBTQIA+ voices were minimized or erased, but Sappho was a notable exception. She was well-read throughout the ancient world, to the extent that much of her writing survives because her poetry was used as wrappings for mummification practices in Egypt. Readers connected with her verse so deeply that they sought to be enrobed in it after death. Later, her words as well as her persona became a symbol of resilience and hope to the LGBTQIA+ community, which is why I find Miguel Carbonel Selva’s work so striking. He positions her on the edge of a cliff in muted, blue tones, shouting into the abyss. He titled his work ‘The Death of Sappho,’ which I found interesting. To some viewers of history, the lives of women— particularly queer women— are prefigured as tragic. But they don’t have to be. Identity is not synonymous with trauma, and love is not a death sentence.
It is time to imagine Sappho in a different light.
Halifax is an ever-widening amalgam of identities and communities coexisting as a unit. It is full of life, colour, and ceaseless vivacity. And in July, it is also a celebration of Pride. As a mural, this piece would add a bright and joyful image to the community. One which highlights the resilience of its members, and carries a piece of history into an optimistic and welcoming future of inclusivity.
A Grecian woman stands on the edge of a sharp cliff. She holds one hand straight out in front of herself, grasping at the air. Her long black hair falls behind her, and her lavender shawl hangs suspended from her outstretched arm. Her long white chiton is synched at the waist, and leaves a short train behind her. Next to her foot, there is a golden lyre. The background is yellow, and an aura of orange, pink, and violet stretches around her like a full-body halo. She is the poet Sappho, reciting into the sunrise.