Race and Racism in Nineteenth-Century Art: The Ascendency of Robert Duncanson, Edward Bannister, and Edmonia Lewis

Posted in Arts, Biography, Books, Forthcoming Media, History, Monographs, United States on 2021-06-10 00:49Z by Steven

Race and Racism in Nineteenth-Century Art: The Ascendency of Robert Duncanson, Edward Bannister, and Edmonia Lewis

University Press of Mississippi
2021-07-15
282 pages
30 b&w illustrations
Hardcover ISBN: 9781496834348
Paperback ISBN: 9781496834355

Naurice Frank Woods Jr., Associate Professor of African American Studies
University of North Carolina, Greensboro

Foreword by George Dimock, Associate Professor Emeritus of Art
University of North Carolina, Greensboro

The extraordinary struggle, achievement, loss, and reclamation of three brilliant African American artists of the 1800s

Painters Robert Duncanson (ca. 1821–1872) and Edward Bannister (1828–1901) and sculptor Mary Edmonia Lewis (ca. 1844–1907) each became accomplished African American artists. But as emerging art makers of color during the antebellum period, they experienced numerous incidents of racism that severely hampered their pursuits of a profession that many in the mainstream considered the highest form of social cultivation. Despite barriers imposed upon them due to their racial inheritance, these artists shared a common cause in demanding acceptance alongside their white contemporaries as capable painters and sculptors on local, regional, and international levels.

Author Naurice Frank Woods Jr. provides an in-depth examination of the strategies deployed by Duncanson, Bannister, and Lewis that enabled them not only to overcome prevailing race and gender inequality, but also to achieve a measure of success that eventually placed them in the top rank of nineteenth-century American art.

Unfortunately, the racism that hampered these three artists throughout their careers ultimately denied them their rightful place as significant contributors to the development of American art. Dominant art historians and art critics excluded them in their accounts of the period. In this volume, Woods restores their artistic legacies and redeems their memories, introducing these significant artists to rightful, new audiences.

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Affirming Blackness: A Rebuttal to Will South’s “A Missing Question Mark: The Unknown Henry Ossawa Tanner”

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing on 2011-06-30 20:38Z by Steven

Affirming Blackness: A Rebuttal to Will South’s “A Missing Question Mark: The Unknown Henry Ossawa Tanner”

Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide: a journal of ninetheenth-century visual culture
Volume 9, Issue 2 (Autumn 2010)

Naurice Frank Woods, Visiting Assistant Professor of African American Studies
University of North Carolina, Greensboro

George Dimock, Associate Professor of Art History
University of North Carolina, Greensboro

Will South’s recent article proposing a heretofore “unknown” Henry Ossawa Tanner who was conflicted about his African American identity and who, while in France, sought to pass as white demonstrates an impressive mastery of archival sources and a flair for persuasive re-interpretation. It is all the more problematic therefore that he misinterprets the available evidence and thereby diminishes the cultural significance of Tanner’s work. Most ingeniously, South builds an elaborate yet spurious argument by restoring a question mark to Tanner’s declaration “Now am I a Negro?” in a famous epistolary exchange with art critic Eunice Tietjens in 1914. In so doing he refashions the foremost African American artist of the nineteenth century as a tragic mulatto—a man who saw himself “as mostly white,” who worked while in France to “systematically…remove race from the equation of his life,” and was willing “to conceal the African American component of his extraction.” South concludes with a critical appraisal that undermines the integrity of Tanner’s art by claiming that “his achievements, ultimately, were grounded in a life of complex compromise lived in between his blackness and his whiteness.”

With or without the missing punctuation, Tanner’s response to Tietjens resounds as his most important statement on race. It reflects his utter frustration with America’s practice of applying a rule of hypodescent (the “one-drop rule“) that defined him as an innately inferior being and constricted his opportunities as artist and citizen. What Tanner was rejecting in his response to Tietjens was not his race but the American art establishment’s continual labeling of him as “Negro” whenever his talent was evaluated. By way of contrast, the Paris art world showed “steadily increasing interest” in his work, linking him with his fellow countrymen, James McNeill Whistler and John Singer Sargent, without “slight[ing] his art in the exploitation of his race” as was the custom in the U.S. press. Tanner considered himself principally an American artist and he affirmed his right to join the ranks of the cultural elite based on artistic merit and racial equality. Tanner’s life and art challenged his nation’s disingenuous notions of race. When taken in context, his question to Tietjens, “Now am I a Negro?” is far from being a renunciation of his black ancestry and heritage as South would have it. Rather it functions rhetorically as sardonic irony in response to the cruelties and stupidities of white racism…

Read the entire article here.

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