Fugitive Slave Advertisements and/as Portraiture – University of Copenhagen

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Fugitive Slave Advertisements and/as Portraiture

Guest Lecture by Professor Charmaine A. Nelson, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University (Montreal, Canada).

Found throughout the Transatlantic World, fugitive slave advertisements demonstrate the ubiquity of African resistance to slavery. Produced by white slave owners seeking to recapture their runaway “property,” standardized icons of enslaved males and females became a staple of such print advertisements. However, the more complex textual descriptions were also fundamentally visual and arguably comprise an archive of very dubious, unauthorized “portraits” that have sadly come to stand as “the most detailed descriptions of the bodies of enslaved African Americans available”.

This lecture seeks to analyze the differences and similarities between “high” art representations of enslaved Africans and the textual descriptions of enslaved people’s bodies which became a staple of fugitive advertisements. Recalling fugitive slave advertisements as a form of visual culture, this lecture positions them as one part of the colonial infrastructure and network that sustained the racialized distinction between free and unfree populations. The lecture is part of a larger project that studies Canadian (Nova Scotia and Quebec) and Jamaican fugitive slave advertisements, alongside portraiture and genre studies as a means of comparing the visual dimensions of creolization in slave minority and slave majority sites of the British Atlantic world.


Dr. Charmaine A. Nelson is Professor of Art History at the Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University (Montreal, Canada). Nelson has made ground-breaking contributions to the fields of the Visual Culture of Slavery, Race and Representation, and Black Canadian Studies. She is the author of six books, including The Color of Stone: Sculpting the Black Female Subject in Nineteenth-Century America (2007), Representing the Black Female Subject in Western Art (2010), and Slavery, Geography, and Empire in Nineteenth-Century Marine Landscapes of Montreal and Jamaica (2016). Her seventh book, the edited collection Towards an African Canadian Art History: Art, Memory, and Resistance (forthcoming 2018), will be the first to consolidate the field of African Canadian Art History.

The lecture is organized by Associate Professor Mathias Danbolt and is supported by the Independent Research Fund Denmark and Sapere Aude: DFF-Research Talent Grant.