Legacies links for October 30, 2023: Art as a Tool for Reckoning

As National Arts and Humanities Month draws to a close, here is a round-up of a few museums and galleries with current exhibits the touch upon the legacies of slavery. As always, the editorial team here at the Legacies blog encourages you to share the post with friends, students, colleagues, etc. A link does not imply agreement or endorsement by the Council of Independent Colleges.

Oil painting with three young white children in the foreground and a young Black boy standing behind them.
Bélizaire and the Frey Children
(c. 1837), attributed to Jacques Amans. source: Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Sarah Kuta, “Who Was the Enslaved Child Painted Out of This 1837 Portrait?” Smithsonian Magazine (August 18, 2023): LINK. The complicated history of Bélizaire and the Frey Children, a painting commissioned by a New Orleans enslaver in the 1830s and now on display at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. It originally featured the three white children of merchant/banker Frederick Frey and an enslaved Black child—who was later painted over. Conservators have restored the painting to its original state. According to the Met, it is “among the most fully documented American portraits of an enslaved Black subject depicted with the family of his enslaver.”
  • Erin Joyce, “Deborah Roberts’s Elegy for Lost Innocence,” Hyperallergic (October 23, 2023): LINK. “Come walk in my shoes,” on exhibit at SITE Santa Fe, is a visual showcase of Black boys’ innocence and “the robbery of innocence at the hand of the government, carceral system, and broader system racism in the United States.”
  • Menika Dirkson, “Dr. Joanne Martin’s Great Blacks in Wax Museum,” Black Perspectives (October 23, 2023): LINK. This article highlights the life, career, and service of Joanne Martin, co-founder of The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore, MD. Among other things, the article addresses an important question about any public exhibit of art that addresses the violence of slavery: “How do you handle emotionally-driven questions about ‘difficult history’ from children?”
  • Jessica Stewart, “Powerful Oil Paintings Modeled on the Work of Old Masters Give a Voice to African Mythology,” My Modern Met (October 21, 2023): LINK. An interview with Afro-Cuban artist Harmonia Rosales, whose work is currently on exhibit at CIC member Spelman College (Atlanta, GA). Rosales combines ‘“the tales and characters of the Yorùbá religion, Greco-Roman mythology, and Christianity with the canonical works and artistic techniques of European Old Masters … spotlighting oft-forgotten narratives where Black voices take center stage.”
  • Andrew S. Jacobson, “National Gallery of Art Exhibit Shows Black People from Slavery to Self-Determination,” The Washington Informer (October 15, 2023): LINK. The Ross J. Kelbaugh Collection of photographs, recently acquired by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, offers “a profound look at African-American lives from the 1840s through the early 20th century … [which] invites comparison to contemporary practices while providing an introspective lens into evolving societal values.”
  • Joshua Nicholson, “UMMA’s new ‘Hear Me Now’ exhibit showcases pottery from Black artists,” The Michigan Daily (October 1, 2023): LINK. An exhibit at the University of Michigan features pottery created during the 19th century by enslaved African Americans in the Old Edgefield region of South Carolina and Georgia. “[S]everal pieces in the exhibit do not have an identifiable artists because enslaved artists did not have the right to own their work.”
  • Lucy Mason, “American artist Kara Walker’s new exhibitions highlight GU272 in a modern art conversation,” The Georgetown Voice (September 25, 2023): LINK. Two shows at Georgetown University reflect on the institution’s history of enslavement and recent efforts to reckon with that past. The exhibits of work by Kara Walker—one of the most prominent contemporary American artists of any race—confront the racial violence that Black Americans “[feel] like the back of your hand.”
  • “Mickalene Thomas / Portrait of an Unlikely Space,” Yale University Art Gallery (June 29, 2023): LINK. Mickalene Thomas, the noted painter and photographer, has partnered with the Yale University Art Gallery for an exhibit that juxtaposes historic portraits and photographs of antebellum African Americans with Thomas’s own artistic reflections on slavery. The exhibit will be on view in New Haven, CT, until January 2024.