A Jane Eyre Blackout Poem

Ari Ralph is a South African artist and writer, currently studying Fine Arts at the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam. She mostly works by incorporating socio-political elements into her works through a variety of mixed medias.

I am a South African visual artist who is currently living in Rotterdam. I recently decided to turn Charlotte Brontë’s novel, Jane Eyre into a hand-stitched book of blackout poetry. A blackout poem is when a poet or artist redacts parts of an already established text until a new poem is formed. I chose this specific novel as it is considered by many as a classic piece of European feminist literature. I remember studying this book in secondary school in South Africa but never noticing, or being encouraged to pick up, the problems with interpreting the book through the exclusive and narrow lens of Eurocentric feminism. Eurocentric feminism, feminism focusing solely on the experiences of white women in Western cultures, is particularly problematic when reading the book in the context of post-apartheid South Africa. Now, although there have been important postcolonial and feminist rewritings and critiques of the book, I still find it strange that the novel is so widely loved and taught, and wanted to use my blackout poem to highlight the negation or exclusion of any people of colour, and offer an intersectional interpretation of the book.

With this in mind, I felt that I needed to make some changes to the novel. I did this by selecting specific words on each page, some chosen consciously and others subconsciously, and painting over the rest of the text in mostly black acrylic paint. On some pages I chose to use colour, if that colour was mentioned in the text on that page. I wanted to bring vibrancy into the blackout with the idea that colour and light can emerge from darkness

In my newly created text taken from Brontë’s words, I have left out most of the male pronouns. The ones I purposefully included act in non-dominant ways and are followed by words that do not hold the same level of literary power as those that follow the female pronouns.

After blacking out the majority of the book, I then compiled and punctuated the words that I had chosen to keep, creating an entirely new prose poem, a new work of literature that bears almost no resemblance to the original text yet is solely compiled from the words used in the book. Every word used was directly taken from Brontë’s literary arsenal.

Once finished with selecting, blacking out and reconstructing the text, I then dismantled the book itself and sewed it back together by hand. By doing this, I aimed to modernise Brontë’s concept of feminism by hand stitching it into a more intersectional one. I wanted to create a tangible example of how the deconstruction and dismantling of the old can create a layered, inclusive and nuanced work.

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