Tiffany R. Sims
African American Art
Dr. Akua McDaniel
Struggle. Hope. Change. Since the colonial period, and even many years before this time period, African-American people struggled with inequality, lack of rights, and racial injustice. This struggle came to a historical high during The Civil War in the 1860’s. With much effort and persistence, the war ended and slavery was abolished in the nation. The result brought hope to black people in the United States. This newfound faith amongst black people was captured in many different forms, such as propaganda, literature, and most importantly, art. Two black, female artists portrayed this spirit in the forms of sculptures. During the Post-Civil War era, Edmonia Lewis and Meta Warrick Fuller created works that symbolized the struggle for freedom, hope for the future, and a need for change for African-American people.
The American Civil War was arguably one of the most deadliest and important events in the nation’s history. Political tensions came to an all-time high and caused a split and war amongst the States from 1861-1865. Slavery was a root cause of the war. The North, also known as the Union, was fighting for the abolishment of slavery while the South, also known as the Confederacy, was fighting to preserve slavery laws in the nation. In the end, the North prevailed and laws were made to end slavery and give black people the rights and privileges they deserved. The end of the war brought about a new attitude for black people. As laws were being passed and slaves were being set free, African-Americans started to believe and know that there was hope for a better future. Black people began to experience a sense of liberation from the bonds of slavery and were ready to embark on the road to freedom that they had so long been deprived of. All these feelings became inspiration for black artists and artisans. The black female artists named above used took what was in the hearts and minds of black people during this time and put it into their works of art to tell stories of this time period from a black perspective.
Edmonia Lewis was an African-American sculptor of African-American and Native-American descent. She studied art in the United States at Oberlin College in Ohio but she eventually moved and obtained a studio in Rome, where her real passion was. In Rome, she began to gain fame and recognition as a sculptor. Most of her pieces were inspired by neoclassical techniques, which included white marble as her primary material and depicting the subjects half-clothed or fully naked (The Afro-American Artist, 1973). One of her most famous pieces, Forever Free (Figure 1), portrays many heroic themes, one of them being black emancipation.
Forever Free is a sculpture made in 1867. The sculpture is composed of white marble and depicts two people, a black man and a black woman. The man is standing with one arm lifted up, has broken shackles around his wrist, and his gazing upward while resting is other hand on the shoulder of the woman. The woman is kneeling down next to the man, also gazing upward, has broken shackles around her feet, and her hands are clasped together as if she were in prayer.
The actions of the black man and woman in the sculpture serve as great symbols for overcoming a struggle and a restored faith. The text, African American Art (1998), points out that both the man and the woman have broken shackles around their limbs. One could interpret this as a literal symbol for emancipation. These two people are being freed from slavery and their restraints are cut. On the other hand, the shackles could be telling a broader story of what slavery was keeping them from doing. Now that the shackles are cut, the couple is free to love, freely praise and worship, and free to live their lives side-by-side with no constraints. Another action that is emphasized in the text is the fact the both of them are gazing...
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