This month marks the publication of the second and third parts of Volume III of The Image of the Black in Western Art. As the fifth and sixth of an eventual ten books, these new releases put us past the halfway point in our work to complete this fascinating series, and so offer a nice occasion to reflect on the challenges that it presents. To that end, we invited HUP Production Editor Adriana Kirilova, one of the many people who have been dedicated to this project over the decades since its conception, to tell us a bit about her experience working on the books. Her piece is below.
When two years ago my manager told me that I would be the production editor for The Image of the Black in Western Art series, I was thrilled to be a part of this monumental project. I remember thinking I wouldn’t have very much to do. The first four books were scheduled to come out in the fall of 2010, and three of them had been previously published as part of the first incarnation of the series. There was little new text to edit, and a media research company in London had been contracted to deliver the images. We just had to flow it all into the new design and redo the index. Easy as pie.
How naïve I was!
When Dominique de Menil first conceived of the Image of the Black project in the 1960s, she had assumed it wouldn’t take very long to complete it. She had not anticipated the astonishing wealth of material or the complexity of the iconography of blacks in Western art. Fifty years later, we found ourselves in a similar situation. Everyone at the Du Bois Institute and HUP was excited to renew the efforts to complete this monumental undertaking, but few of us were fully aware of its intricacies.
First and foremost, we had to contend with the passage of time. The very title of the series reflects how much has changed since the conception of this project. The Image of the Black in Western Art: the meaning of nearly all of those words has grown more complicated in the years that have passed. And, as we started to work, it became clear how much else had changed. There were references in the text to East Germany and West Germany, St. Petersburg was still Leningrad, Sri Lanka was still Ceylon.
Ensuring that the text accurately and consistently reflects today’s geopolitical map has been only one of the challenges, and not the biggest one by far. The real Herculean task has been locating all the art. Since the publication of the first edition, museums have disbanded, galleries have changed their names, manuscripts have moved from one library to another. Vases have disappeared. Inscriptions on tombstones have faded. Broken statuettes have been restored. Research from the past thirty years has shed new light on the dates and titles of artworks. Paintings that were previously accepted as the work of X are now believed to be by Y.
Producing these books sequentially would have been demanding. No book that includes 200 illustrations could ever be easy. Producing them in batches, as efficiencies in publishing demand, has come dangerously close to insanity. There are so many details to keep track of, and nothing is ever as straightforward as it seems. Even the most inconsequential decision becomes paramount when multiplied by ten books. Changes in one book usually necessitate changes in another. Many of our conversations about IBWA (our shorthand for the series) include the phrase “Wait, which volume are we talking about?” The six books that make up volumes I through III have more than 1,500 images total. To date, I have received about 4,700 emails about IBWA and I’ve sent about 3,800.
It’s hard to explain what it is that I do for this series. I’ve done some copyediting, a little proofreading, a lot of fact-checking. I also nag, beg, and bully everyone else on the team when the deadlines loom large in front of us. It’s a miracle my colleagues still talk to me.
Every time we think we have things under control, we discover another complication. We’ve researched dates. Dimensions of art. Renovations of French cathedrals. Greek drinking vessels (how is an oinochoe different from a cantharos?). Family trees of Italian nobility (a certain Giulia was referred to as the wife of So-and-So in one place, as his daughter in another). Once I spent two hours looking for photographs of the inside of a Czech church because St. Maurice was facing left in one image, right in another, and I had to know which was correct. And did you know that Johannes Mytens and Jan Mijtens are the same person?
By now I could tell a story about almost every image in these books. How the couple who owned an Adoration of the Magi thirty years ago had since divorced, and the husband had lost touch with his ex-wife, who’d taken the painting. How we’d used the satellite view on Google Maps to confirm the location of a fountain in Rome. How I’d scribbled “Doesn’t this guy look like Paul Pierce?” above a portrait of Memnon.
And always the race against the clock. Long workdays, short lunch breaks, IBWA-filled weekends—every day matters, and everyone on the IBWA team has had to put in extra time to keep the books on schedule. Last July I went camping and I took with me the master set of proofs for vol. II, part 1, with the proofreader’s corrections marked on them. All night I was worried someone would steal the car where the proofs were locked. That I would be stuck in the woods didn’t concern me, but the thought of losing three weeks’ worth of work was terrifying.
Six of the ten books are now out in the world, and we have four more to go. It is a difficult, frustrating, sometimes overwhelming project, but when I look at the books lined up on my shelf, I am fiercely proud of what we have accomplished. I think of the history that lives in these books, of why Dominique de Menil started this series and why David Bindman, Sheldon Cheek, Karen Dalton, Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Du Bois Institute, Sharmila Sen, and the rest of us here at HUP have worked so hard to complete it. It reminds me why the research, the dead ends, the panic, the emails, and the hours have all been worth it. It reminds me why these books matter. It’s an honor to be part of their legacy.