By Celeste-Marie Bernier
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In paintings and literature, in historical past and pop culture, blonde hasn't ever been a trifling color. For 2,500 years, it's been a blazing sign and round this obsession whole industries have constructed, influential developments set. From Greek prostitutes mimicking the golden-haired Aphrodite, to the Californian seashore babe; from pigeon-dung and saffron dyes to L'Oreal—because you're worthy it—we see the lengths to which ladies will visit turn into blonde.
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Additional resources for African American Visual Arts (British Association for American Studies (BAAS) Paperbacks)
Moreover, the existence of these artefacts and art objects proves that many enslaved and free women and men were in search of ways in which to express their subjectivity, beyond the dehumanising effects of soul-destroying labour. In this chapter, I focus on five nineteenth-century artists – Dave the Potter, James P. Ball, Harriet Powers, Edmonia Lewis and Henry O. Tanner – to examine their developments in forms as diverse as pottery, daguerreotypes, quilts, sculpture and painting. Before going into any depth on these specific artists, this chapter opens 18 ‘the slave who paints’ 19 by outlining some of the discoveries made in recent archaeological excavations.
The fact that we are not even sure of his last name, although recent scholarship suggests it may have been ‘Drake’, resonates with ambiguities surrounding the birthdates and biographies of many black artists. Similarly, perhaps the most original surviving artefacts in this period are the Afro-Carolinian face vessels. While we have no idea concerning the identity of these slave creators, enigmas remain surrounding their origin, imagery and purpose. These incomplete records highlight the difficulties in researching early African American artisans and leave us wondering how many more are simply lost to history.
Samella Lewis claims that Dave’s works got to the ‘heart of community life’ by representing ‘images common to African American lives’ (Lewis, 2003: 4). His inclusion of poetry ‘hidden in plain view’ educated his black audiences that it was possible to survive and resist cultural annihilation (Tobin and Dobard, 2000). Ultimately, Dave’s ongoing sense of isolation which he admitted in couplets such as ‘“I wonder where is all my relation/ friendship to all – and every nation”’ (16 August 1857) captures the struggles facing early black artists in their fight for an artistic identity and an audience for their works (in De Groft, 1998: 259).
African American Visual Arts (British Association for American Studies (BAAS) Paperbacks) by Celeste-Marie Bernier