Portraits of brilliant and illuminating people.

Rachel Cargle


Rachel Cargle is a public academic, writer and lecturer, and a motivating, illuminating activist. Her work focusses on the intersection of race and womanhood, and she, together with other social justice activists, have changed my way of 'seeing' race, in a very short space of time.

Rachel's influence on me was born of an awakened investigation into Black people's experience, particularly in the US where I am based. The background pattern of this Glass Cathedral is derived from an African cloth that reminded me of the sea, Rachel's dreadlocked hair flowing with it. She is wearing the crown of ancient royalty, of true leadership, and holding a golden book, her teachings. I don't know Rachel Cargle's personal family origins but I wanted to portray her in a wider spatial and temporal context, so while this may not be directly aligned with her experience, I tried to trust my intuitions to guide me.

Rachel's clothes are blended into the background, from some angles she is nearly invisible - a reference to my 'Invisible Women' concept explored in other Glass Cathedrals. Being unseen can equate to being undervalued and vulnerable, which has obvious resonance with Black women's historical experience. But if invisibility is how you are seen (or unseen) from the outside, your strength and power must necessarily emanate from within - invisibility transformed into a super power.

Links to Rachel Cargle's work: | Personal Instagram account | The Great Unlearn Instagram account

While I was lovingly fixing Rachel's dreadlocked hair, I thought of the myth of Medusa. She is the symbol of female rage, terrifying, unambiguous. Then, I paused. The essence of this piece is about 'unlearning' what I have learnt through the privileged, white, male lens. So I googled "Reclaiming Medusa". And look at what I found...!

THE MYTH OF MEDUSA "Like most myths, there are many different versions and Medusa takes on different shapes and meanings, depending on the writer or interpreter of the myth. Medusa was either one of the Gorgons and already a hideous creature at birth or a beautiful maiden that worshipped Athena.

One day, as she was honouring Athena in one of her temples she either made love to, or was ravished by, Poseidon. Athena, outraged by the insult to her sanctuary, cursed Medusa and turned her into a hideous monster, very effectively preventing her from ever again having any contact with a man.

One beautiful morning, Medusa, henceforth condemned to a lonely existence at the end of the earth, received the visit of the Greek hero Perseus who severed her head. Two drops of blood were spilled on the earth and from these drops of blood were born the children of Medusa and Poseidon: Chrysaor, the giant with the golden dagger and Pegasus, the winged horse.

The myth of Medusa is a creation myth. Medusa, earth, fertilised by Poseidon, water, gives birth to Chrysaor, who symbolises the sun or fire-energy and the power to make things grow (fertility); and Pegasus, the winged horse who symbolises the air element, a representation of poetry, beauty and magic."

Ideas one could spend a lifetime exploring.