Black Artists in the Atlantic World

A special issue of Arts (ISSN 2076-0752).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 30 April 2024 | Viewed by 10476

Special Issue Editors

Department of Art History, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL, USA
Interests: Spanish Colonial art; architecture and visual culture; the material culture of the African Diaspora with an emphasis on the Caribbean region

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Guest Editor
Department of Art History, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL, USA
Interests: the visual and material cultures of the colonial Atlantic World; art and empire; art in the age of revolution and nationalism; the history of colonialism; the intersection of art and race; the visual and material cultures of the African diaspora

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

We are seeking submissions for a Special Issue of Arts, which will focus on black artists in the Atlantic World, ca. 1500–1900 CE. Invoking the modern/colonial racial category of “black” draws critical and much-needed attention to the role of race in the lives and careers of artists of African descent, and others who have had to negotiate being inscribed and socialized into blackness by Atlantic societies. We approach this topic hemispherically, considering both colonial and national socio-political frameworks bordering and/or shaped by the broader Atlantic arena, including the Americas, Europe, and Africa. In this way, we hope to foster a comparative conversation between scholars working on the various geographic spheres of the Atlantic in order to better understand the transnational and transimperial realities faced by black artists and how they have worked through their respective settings.

This Special Issue acknowledges and draws inspiration from recent scholarship on artists in the Spanish colonial territories throughout the Americas, such as the essay by Barbara Munday and Aaron Hyman, “Out of the Shadow of Vasari: Towards a New Model of The ‘Artist’ in Colonial Latin America,” Colonial Latin American Review, Vol. 24, No. 3 (2015): 283-317; the monograph by Susan Verdi-Webster, Lettered Artists and the Language of Empire: Painters and the Profession in Early Colonial Quito (University of Texas Press, 2017); the 2019 Hescah symposium at the University of Florida, “Beyond Biography: Artistic Practice & Personhood in Colonial Latin America,” organized by Maya Stanfield-Mazzi; and the Special Edition of the Colonial Latin American Review, “Visualizing Blackness in Colonial Latin America,” co-edited by Kathryn Santner and Helen Melling, Vol. 30, No. 2, 2021. The study of black artists and image makers in the southern Atlantic has been further advanced by the work of scholars, such as Ximena A. Gómez, Agnes Lugo-Ortiz, Linda Rodríguez, and Miguel Valerio. These studies shed light on the methodological challenges as well as the importance of considering the lives, careers, and agencies of Spanish colonial artists in the writing of these regions’ social and cultural histories. Among the salient dimensions addressed by these projects is the role of race in shaping the professional lives of artists. For the northern Atlantic, which is situated later in time than those of the Ibero-Americas and the Caribbean and in contexts informed by Protestant conceptions and practices of the image, relationships between the artist, the art, the viewer, and race have been examined in such works as Kirsten Pai Buick’s Child of the Fire: Mary Edmonia Lewis and the Problem of Art History’s Black and Indian Subject (Duke University Press, 2010), Anna O. Marley’s edited collection of essays Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern Spirit (University of California Press, 2012), and Jasmine Nichole Cobb, Picture Freedom: Remaking Black Visual Culture in the Early Nineteenth Century (New York University Press, 2015).

Engaging with the subject of black artists in the Atlantic World raises a number of critical questions. How did racial blackness shape the professional worlds negotiated by artists in the Atlantic? How does race impact the ways in which we consider black artists in the Atlantic whose racial classification is not necessarily evident in the formal and stylistic properties of their work? If an artist is of African descent, must their art be a matter of race? What was the relationship between race, blackness, and the creation of the category of “artist” in the Atlantic? What other forms of making and imagery are at stake in this field of inquiry beyond artist and art, as institutionally redefined by academies of art?  How has the discourse of race obscured African and African American agency, awareness, and negotiations of imperial/colonial power? How do we address the limits of the historic archive in recovering the stories of such artists? What can be learned by looking across national and imperial boundaries in the Atlantic with respect to the histories of black artists? These questions will be considered and addressed within this Special Issue.

Dr. Paul Niell
Dr. Emily Thames
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Arts is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • Black Atlantic
  • Atlantic world
  • Americas
  • Artist
  • Artist biography
  • Colonial
  • Empire

Published Papers (4 papers)

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Research

35 pages, 8710 KiB  
Article
“Made by the Son of a Black”: José Campeche as Artist and Free Person of Color in Late Eighteenth-Century Puerto Rico
by Emily K. Thames
Arts 2023, 12(4), 126; https://doi.org/10.3390/arts12040126 - 25 Jun 2023
Viewed by 2092
Abstract
In response to the absence of a critical discussion of race within his historiography, this essay focuses on José Campeche (1751–1809) as an artist of African descent and argues that the socially and culturally inscribed constructs of race and Campeche’s lived experiences of [...] Read more.
In response to the absence of a critical discussion of race within his historiography, this essay focuses on José Campeche (1751–1809) as an artist of African descent and argues that the socially and culturally inscribed constructs of race and Campeche’s lived experiences of them in late eighteenth-century Puerto Rico shaped and informed his participation in the arts. Campeche lived both as an artist and as a free man of color within a racialized colonial society, and as such, inquiries regarding how race affected Campeche’s life and artistic practice, and particularly how his immersion in the community of free people of color in San Juan possibly impacted the manner in which he was trained and worked, allow for a more comprehensive understanding of his art production. Using comparable examples of African descendant artists and artisans active in other colonial centers, such as Mexico City and Havana, this article elucidates connections between Campeche’s socioracial reality, his artistic career, and his work through an examination of the relationship between race and art making in Puerto Rico, the broader Caribbean region, and the greater Spanish Empire during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This analysis of Campeche’s career and work prompts new questions about the artist that have not been asked in previous scholarship, such as how the structures of race would have defined his position and interactions within colonial society and also how his complex multiracial identity may have allowed him access to the different kinds of artistic exposure, training, and opportunities he likely had in San Juan. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Black Artists in the Atlantic World)
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17 pages, 2704 KiB  
Article
Racial Democracy, Visibility, and the History of Colonial Brazilian Art
by Rachel A. Zimmerman
Arts 2023, 12(4), 125; https://doi.org/10.3390/arts12040125 - 21 Jun 2023
Viewed by 1542
Abstract
Since the nineteenth century, the history of colonial Brazilian art has highlighted the work of Afro-Brazilian men, specifically those with a white father and Black or parda mother. Antonio Francisco Lisboa, known as Aleijadinho, is the subject of countless books, exhibitions, television shows, [...] Read more.
Since the nineteenth century, the history of colonial Brazilian art has highlighted the work of Afro-Brazilian men, specifically those with a white father and Black or parda mother. Antonio Francisco Lisboa, known as Aleijadinho, is the subject of countless books, exhibitions, television shows, and films. In addition to such famous men, dozens of other Afro-Brazilian artists are known and much scholarship has examined iconography and style with ties to African cultures. This extensive and important work has led to major exhibitions demonstrating Afro-Brazilian contributions as central to Brazil’s past and present. Although intended as celebratory, the language and framing structures scholars use to discuss Afro-Brazilian artists from the colonial period are founded in white supremacy. The conception of Brazil as a nation where everyone is of mixed race, and therefore devoid of racism, is partly responsible for Aleijadinho’s fame. This essay will clarify how this narrative of harmonious racial mixing and the focus on the visibly African perpetuates white supremacist interpretations of colonial Brazilian art and limits the study of Afro-Brazilian artists’ work. I will propose ways to reframe workshop practice and improve connoisseurship using, among other cases, the lawsuit directed toward the white painter Manoel da Costa Ataíde that named the Afro-Brazilian artists who created one of his commissions. The essay builds on existing scholarship, acknowledging the violence of enslaving artists and promoting lines of inquiry that consider the agency and cultural positioning of Afro-Brazilian artists and patrons as subtle, ubiquitous, and heterogeneous. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Black Artists in the Atlantic World)
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30 pages, 71078 KiB  
Article
Atlantic Masters: Three Early Modern Afro-Brazilian Artists
by Miguel A. Valerio
Arts 2023, 12(3), 118; https://doi.org/10.3390/arts12030118 - 02 Jun 2023
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 2049
Abstract
Brazil received the largest number of Africans enslaved into the Americas: nearly five million by some estimates. Thus, Brazil became the world’s largest slavocracy. But slavery was not the only experience available to Africans and Brazilians of African descent in slavery-era Brazil. Numerically, [...] Read more.
Brazil received the largest number of Africans enslaved into the Americas: nearly five million by some estimates. Thus, Brazil became the world’s largest slavocracy. But slavery was not the only experience available to Africans and Brazilians of African descent in slavery-era Brazil. Numerically, Afro-Brazilians dominated the arts in colonial Brazil. However, very few of those artists and artisans, many of whom were enslaved, are known by name today. Free Afro-Brazilian artists, such as Aleijadinho, Mestre Valentim, and Teófilo de Jesus, on the other hand, fared far better. In this article, I turn to these three mixed-race artists’ works and what little is known of their lives, not only as exemplary Afro-Brazilian artists but also as some of the most important artists of Brazil’s late colonial period, where they had the greatest impact on the artistic developments in their home regions. These artists’ careers thus illustrate how artists of African descent contributed to and defined urban and sacred spaces in the early modern Atlantic. This is therefore an invitation to look at Afrodescendants’ role in early modern art beyond the anonymity of slavery and static representation. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Black Artists in the Atlantic World)
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16 pages, 950 KiB  
Article
Quilting in West Africa: Liberian Women Stitching Political, Economic, and Social Networks in the Nineteenth Century
by Stephanie Beck Cohen
Arts 2023, 12(3), 97; https://doi.org/10.3390/arts12030097 - 08 May 2023
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1825
Abstract
Quilts occupy a liminal position in the histories of art and material culture. Centering analyses around specific artworks like Martha Ricks’ 1892 Coffee Tree quilt, as well as investigating women’s writing about their material production, illuminates ignored narratives about the ways black [...] Read more.
Quilts occupy a liminal position in the histories of art and material culture. Centering analyses around specific artworks like Martha Ricks’ 1892 Coffee Tree quilt, as well as investigating women’s writing about their material production, illuminates ignored narratives about the ways black women participated in international social, political, and economic networks around the nineteenth-century Atlantic world. Quilters who emigrated from the United States to Liberia in the nineteenth century incorporated an aesthetic heritage from the American South with new visual vocabularies developing alongside the newly independent nation. Artists relied on networks with abolitionists in the United States and local textile knowledge to source materials for their work. Finished quilts circulated in local and international contexts, furthering social, political, and economic objectives. Like Harriet Powers’ bible quilts, Ricks’ quilts gained fame through exhibition and a whimsical artist’s biography. Quilts’ fragility as natural-fiber textiles in a tropical climate makes a finding a body of works difficult to examine as there are no extant Liberian quilts from the nineteenth century. However, it is possible to patch together a network of women artists, their patrons, and audiences from West Africa to North America and Europe through creative investigation of diverse historical records, including diary entries, letters, newspaper articles, and photographs. I argue that by examining Martha Ricks’ artworks, self-presentation through portraiture, and published writing, it is possible to envision a new narrative of black women’s participation in visualizing the newly-minted Republic of Liberia for Atlantic audiences. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Black Artists in the Atlantic World)
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