March 24 | Slashing Canvases, Seeing Freedom: Enslaved Viewership and Iconoclasm in the Plantation South

Image: Archibald J. Motley Jr., Mending Socks, 1924. Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. 

The Department of Art History presents the 2022 Maurice Bonds Lecture on Thursday, March 24 at 5pm via Zoom. Jennifer Van Horn, Associate Professor of Art History and History at University of Delaware, will present “Slashing Canvases, Seeing Freedom: Enslaved Viewership and Iconoclasm in the Plantation South.”

Please register in advance at the following link:

“As Union troops moved across the South, enslaved people of African descent took artistic action. Seizing their enslavers’ artworks some slashed and destroyed canvases. Others took portraits back to their houses and put them on display. These acts of iconoclasm and possession extended strategies of subversive viewership enslaved people had developed within bondage. “No one could prevent us making good use of our eyes” in the bold words of one freedwoman. Gazing on the artworks in white enslavers’ houses, some Black viewers harnessed paintings for their own self-performances, spiritual practices, and to affirm their humanity. This talk tells an alternative history of nineteenth-century American art: how enslaved people mobilized portraiture in acts of artistic defiance.”

The Maurice Bonds Lectureship in Art History was established in 1997 by Mrs. Maurice Bonds in honor of her husband and former Chair of the Department of Art History at Virginia Commonwealth University. Its purpose is to host visits by distinguished art historians for the benefit of students, faculty, and the community members of VCU. Visiting Lecturers strengthen students’ educational experiences, provide diversity for the curriculum, and advance discussions and investigations into specific areas of the discipline.