Art as History/History as Art

Thursday, January 3, 2019: 4:30 PM
Stevens C-4 (Hilton Chicago)
Ada Ferrer, New York University
Visionary Aponte: Art and Black Freedom brings together fifteen contemporary artists working across a range of media to interpret an extraordinary—and now lost—historical artifact: a so-called “Book of Paintings” created by José Antonio Aponte, a nineteenth-century Afro-Cuban revolutionary and artist. Authorities found the “Book of Paintings” in 1812 during the investigation into a major antislavery conspiracy in Havana. During the trial, Aponte was forced to describe his book in detail—its depictions of lush landscapes and Biblical stories; Roman goddesses and Spanish kings; black men as warriors, emperors, and librarians; Rome, Ethiopia, Havana and the heavens. Shortly after testifying, Aponte was publicly executed, his head severed from his body, and placed on a pike inside a cage in a well-travelled crossraods in the city. Then, his “Book of Paintings” disappeared.

Using Aponte’s trial testimony—which is all that is known to remain of the “Book of Paintings”—and historical scholarship by Ada Ferrer and others, the artists of Visionary Aponte have reimagined Aponte’s book for our present. They experiment with ways to mitigate the violence of the colonial archive and invite us to think about the role of art in envisioning and making social change.

The presentation will feature historian and co-curator Ada Ferrer and artist Teresita Fernández in a discussion of how the archive and historical research shaped the production of art, and, equally important, the ways in which the artists’ approach raises new questions and offers new insights on Aponte’s history.

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