Art As Fugitive Practice

Scipio Moorhead, Phillis Wheatley, 1773.

Amy Sherald, Portrait of Breonna Taylor for Vanity Fair, 2020











Kerry James Marshall, Scipio Moorehead, Portrait of Himself, 1776, 2007.











Sir John Chardin traveled extensively, and frequently, to Persia and the East Indies during the 1670s and 1680s seeking precious gems and unusual objects for King Louis XIV's court. During a trip detailed in The Travels of Sir John Chardin into Persia and the East Indies, 1673-1677, Chardin was rerouted through the Black Sea region to the Caucasus (today's Chechnya and Georgia). Although he described the people of the region as vulgar thieves, and "complete savages" his description of the Georgian people as nonetheless, "the most beautiful in the Orient," and Georgian women enslaved in the sex trade as being "impossible to look at...without falling in love with them" because of their "charming faces" and "tall, graceful, slender, and poised" figures would be cited frequently to establish slave women from the Black Sea region as the western ideal of beauty.
Jean-Léon Gérome, Slave Market, 1866.











One of the earliest thinkers to become interested in comparative anatomy, Camper developed a measurement of the human face that quantified "the relationship between the projection of the forehead, mouth, and chin." Sometime in the 1770s Camper drew an illustrated chart comparing the faces and skulls of a chimpanzee, a Negro, a Kalmuck, a European, and the Apollo Belvedere. While he intended the chart to demonstrate the nearly equal measurements between humans when compared to the chimpanzee, the chart is difficult to read, and has been used extensively to support arguments contrary to Camper's egalitarian view. In particular, his placement of the Negro face next to the chimpanzee face, and the European face next to the Apollo Belvedere was taken to confirm white supremacy.
Petrus Camper, Facial Angles of Chimpanzee, Humans and the Apollo Belvedere, 1791.











Johann Blumenbach's hugely influential classification of humans, On the Natural Variety of Mankind (1781) argues that “climate produces differences in skin color.” As a monogenesist, Blumenbach worked against a number of contradictory observations as he identified five groups of humans: Caucasian, Mongolian, Malayan, Ethiopian, and American. Although, as Painter notes, "scholars could never agree on how many varieties of people existed, where the boundaries between them lay, and which physical traits counted in separating them. Nor have two hundred and more years of racial inquiry diminished confusion on this issue." Nonetheless, over time, Blumenbach's five categories would somewhat arbitrarily gain acceptance, while also offering the name, "Caucasian" to describe certain lightly pigmented groups living in Europe. The idea that began with beauty, and was inextricably coupled with sexual enslavement, would be used to describe white people for generations to come, and make skin color a crucial factor in deciding race.

Johann Blumenbach, Principle Varieties of Mankind, 1779











Samuel G. Morton "claimed in his Crania Americana (1839) that Caucasians had the biggest brains, averaging 87 cubic inches (1,426 cc), Indians were in the middle with an average of 82 cubic inches (1,344 cc) and Negroes had the smallest brains with an average of 78 cubic inches (1,278 cc). Morton believed that the skulls of each race were so different that a wise creator from the beginning had created each race and positioned them in separate homelands to dwell in." - Wikipedia











Phrenology = the study of the shape and physical features of the skull and head that is based on the belief that these features can determine character and personality traits

Physiognomy = the study of facial characterisitcs based on the belief that these features can determine character and personality traits

Phrenological Head

Buchanan's Organology

Spurzheim’s Phrenological Head from Phrenology or the Doctrine of Mental Phenomenon, 1832.











Transatlantic Slave Trade
1440 - 1883
  • "No less than 12.5 million Africans displaced to the Carribean and North, South, and Central America between 1500 and the 1860s." (Farrington, 15)
  • "The earliest record of a black presence in the Global North dates to 1526, when a group of African captives was brought from Hispaniola (present-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic) to coastal South Carolina or to Georgia's Sapelo Sound" (Farrington, 15).
  • About 20 people from the Ndongan Kingdom (present day Angola) landed at Jamestown in 1619, a year before the arrival of the Mayflower. However a census from from the same year notes 32 Afro-Virginians
  • In 1619 alone, 36 ships full of captives set out across the Atlantic (Painter, CBA, 26)
Faith Ringgold, We Came to America, 1997.











The Middle Passage and the Triangular Trade











The Atlantic Slave Trade


The Atlantic Slave Trade in Two Minutes

(also see:








Tom Feelings, from The Middle Passage, 1995.
Romare Bearden, Roots Odyssey, 1976.











  • Over 2 million of those who were forced aboard ships in Africa died before seeing land again
  • About 2/3 of captives were male
  • Between 1492 and 1867 a minimum of 10 million Africans were transported to the Americas
  • About 27,000 expeditions - about 170 ships per year
  • About 95% were sent to labor on sugar plantations in the Carribean and Brazil (which alone accounts for 4 to 5 million)
    • The work was so brutal that these enslaved people died young and were not able to reproduce enough children to replace their numbers.
Howardena Pindell, Autobiography Water/Ancestors/Middle Passage/Family Ghosts, 1989.





















The Slave Ship

  • Mortality rates during the Middle Passage, which took 7 weeks to more than 2 months, averaged 15 to 20%
    • As high as 50% with English ships having the highest mortality
    • As low as 5% with Portugese ships in the 19th century having the lowest mortality
  • At least 2.4 million people died crossing the Atlantic
  • Millions more died in seasoning camps upon arrival
  • Massachusetts became the first English colony to legalize slavery in 1641
    • By the 1680s, new African arrivals were enslaved for life
Joseph Mallard William Turner, The Slave Ship, 1840.