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.