Portraits of Resistance: Activating Art during Slavery
Jennifer Van Horne’s Portraits of Resistance tells a new history of American art: how enslaved people mobilized portraiture for acts of defiance. Revisiting the origins of portrait painting in the United States, Van Horn reveals how mythologies of whiteness and of nation building erased the aesthetic production of enslaved Americans of African descent and obscured the portrait’s importance as a site of resistance. Moving from the wharves of colonial Rhode Island to antebellum Louisiana plantations to South Carolina townhouses during the Civil War, the book illuminates how enslaved people’s relationships with portraits also shaped the trajectory of African American art post-emancipation.
Van Horn asserts that Black creativity, subjecthood, viewership, and iconoclasm constituted instances of everyday rebellion against systemic oppression. Portraits of Resistance is not only a significant intervention in the fields of American art and history but also an important contribution to the re-examination of racial constructs on which American culture was built.
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