CONCORD — Portugal has a deep history with the transatlantic slave trade. In 2022, ceramicist and photographer Isaac Scott spent an artist’s residency in the village of Cerdeira in central Portugal. His show “Mouros” at Lucy Lacoste Gallery presents guardians of Black Portuguese history and culture.
“Mouros” is Portuguese for Moors, a term that historically referred to Arabic-speaking Muslims from North Africa. As the artist notes, over time Moor “began to mean anyone who was Muslim or who had darker skin.” Think of Shakespeare’s “Othello: Moor of Venice.” Mouros are also a mythical people in folktales from northern Portugal and southern Spain, said to live in forests and underground, crafting jewels.
Scott astutely weaves history and myth, past and present, despair and hope. Each work pairs a photograph of a significant Black cultural site with a ceramic head. The black clay busts guard the emotional and spiritual terrain in the photographs.
“Rua Do Poço Dos Negros” depicts a Lisbon street. This “Street of the Blacks’ Pit” is a mass grave site of people who were enslaved. Scott’s bust wears a mask over his eyes with the name carved into it. A gold chain crown alchemizes shackles to treasure and nods to hip-hop. The bust seems to have sprung from the local architecture, with scalloped hair like roof tiles.
A grid of crosses at the back of the head points to the Church’s complicity in the slave trade. The Doctrine of Discovery, a 1493 papal bull issued by Pope Alexander VI, threw the Church’s considerable power into the European enterprise of colonization and enslavement. At the same time, Black people found some help inside church walls. “Igreja de São Domingos” depicts a Lisbon church that, the show’s catalog reports, has historic ties with the Afro-Portuguese community.
An earlier work on view, “#Philly,” is a large bust Scott made in response to #BLM protests after George Floyd’s 2020 murder. Like the “Mouros” heads, this one embodies a place — with grit, nails, and boarded-up windows on her skin. She also shows off Scott’s technical chops, with layers resembling urban decay.
Scott adds history to human form and place in “Mouros.” It’s easy to associate photographs with reality and icons with myth, but this series complicates such assumptions. Each circular photograph suggests a telescopic view with a dreamlike sense of both distance and immediacy, while the busts have an earthen gravity. They hold space for what’s been lost, and for what’s to come.
ISAAC SCOTT: MOUROS
At Lucy Lacoste Gallery, 25 Main St., Concord, through Oct. 14. 978-369-0278, www.lucylacoste.com
Cate McQuaid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.