Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux’s bust Why Born Enslaved! is a famous work in the history of French art. Well-known to Western audiences through the many replicas in museum collections, it depicts a Black woman whose head is tossed over her shoulder while her truncated arms and torso are bound by rope. Beneath her, a socle bears the inscription: “Pourquoi Naître Esclave!” Created in 1868 – exactly twenty years after slavery was finally abolished in the French Atlantic – and presented at the Paris Salon a year later, the bust conveys slavery’s inhumanity while it simultaneously affirms a strict racial hierarchy. Drawing from the interpretive framework proposed in the current exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, entitled Fictions of Emancipation: Carpeaux Recast, this talk examines how a sculpture long celebrated for its abolitionist message also participated in the culture of racial bias that emanated from discourses of empire and colonialism in the nineteenth century.
Date: Thursday, October 6
Location: Mahaney Arts Center 125