Friday, February 25, 2011

The Plantation Approved Colors

As promised, here is the first piece of the new year. The Plantation series continues with the approved color palette(s). I have about 4 of these planned (so far) with two completed. I'll upload the other one later on in the week. This one obviously deals with the relations (many forced) slaveowners had with their slaves. As slaves were the property of the plantation owner, the rape of a black woman by whites was not considered a crime. First-generation children of mixed race were called mulattoes.

Plantation Palette (Sensual)
63" x 44"
Acrylic and gel transfer 

The following passages were taken from the critical essay "The Tragic Mulatto Myth" by Dr. David Pilgrim. To read the full essay, click here.

E.B. Reuter, an historian, wrote:

In slavery days, they (Mulattoes) were most frequently the trained servants and had the advantages of daily contact with cultured men and women. Many of them were free and so enjoyed whatever advantages went with that superior status. They were considered by the white people to be superior in intelligence to the black Negroes, and came to take great pride in the fact of their white blood....When possible, they formed a sort of mixed-blood caste and held themselves aloof from the black Negroes and the slaves of lower status.

Reuter's claim that mulattoes were held in higher regard and treated better than "pure Blacks" must be examined closely. American slavery lasted for more than two centuries; therefore, it is difficult to generalize about the institution. The interactions between slaveholder and slaves varied across decades--and from plantation to plantation. Nevertheless, there are clues regarding the status of mulattoes. In a variety of public statements and laws, the offspring of White-Black sexual relations were referred to as "mongrels" or "spurious." Also, these interracial children were always legally defined as pure Blacks, which was different from how they were handled in other New World countries. A slaveholder claimed that there was "not an old plantation in which the grandchildren of the owner [therefore mulattos] are not whipped in the field by his overseer." Further, it seems that mulatto women were sometimes targeted for sexual abuse. 

According to the historian J. C. Furnas, in some slave markets, mulattoes and quadroons brought higher prices, because of their use as sexual objects. Some slavers found dark skin vulgar and repulsive. The mulatto approximated the White ideal of female attractiveness. All slave women were vulnerable to being raped, but the mulatto afforded the slave owner the opportunity to rape, with impunity, a woman who was physically White (or near-White) but legally Black.

The mulatto woman was depicted as a seductress whose beauty drove White men to rape her. This is an obvious and flawed attempt to reconcile the prohibitions against miscegenation (interracial sexual relations) with the reality that Whites routinely used Blacks as sexual objects. One slaver noted, "There is not a likely looking girl in this State that is not the concubine of a White man...." Every mulatto was proof that the color line had been crossed. In this regard, mulattoes were symbols of rape and concubinage. Gary B. Nash summarized the slavery-era relationship between the rape of Black women, the handling of mulattoes, and White dominance:

Though skin color came to assume importance through generations of association with slavery, white colonists developed few qualms about intimate contact with black women. But raising the social status of those who labored at the bottom of society and who were defined as abysmally inferior was a matter of serious concern. It was resolved by insuring that the mulatto would not occupy a position midway between white and black. Any black blood classified a person as black; and to be black was to be a slave.... By prohibiting racial intermarriage, winking at interracial sex, and defining all mixed offspring as black, white society found the ideal answer to its labor needs, its extracurricular and inadmissible sexual desires, its compulsion to maintain its culture purebred, and the problem of maintaining, at least in theory, absolute social control.

George M. Fredrickson, author of The Black Image in the White Mind, claimed that many White Americans believed that mulattoes were a degenerate race because they had "White blood" which made them ambitious and power hungry combined with "Black blood" which made them animalistic and savage. The attributing of personality and morality traits to "blood" seems foolish today, but it was taken seriously in the past. Charles Carroll, author of The Negro a Beast (1900), described Blacks as apelike. Regarding mulattoes, the offspring of "unnatural relationships," they did not have "the right to live," because, Carroll said, they were the majority of rapists and killers. His claim was untrue but widely believed. In 1899 a southern White woman, L. H. Harris, wrote to the editor of the
Independent that the "negro brute" who rapes White women was "nearly always a mulatto," with "enough white blood in him to replace native humility and cowardice with Caucasian audacity." Mulatto women were depicted as emotionally troubled seducers and mulatto men as power hungry criminals. Nowhere are these depictions more evident than in D. W. Griffith's film The Birth of a Nation (1915).

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Back in the Saddle Again!

Been a long time, but I can assure you that the work and the posts are back. I rented the studio again and had to do some work in there to get it up to speed to start the creative process moving along. I had no need for a 50 foot wall so the space has been partitioned to create a pseudo gallery and a work / storage area. I'm still in the process of moving all of the work in there but am in no real will accumulate over the next couple months - besides, I need something on my walls at home!

I've been feeling the itch and wanted to get back into it slowly. I actually finished two paintings this morning and will post them as soon as Rick Rhodes finishes photographing them. I will start on another early next week and will try to have that one done by the week's end. I'm still working on the Plantation series and the ideas are bursting forth so you know what that means - foolishness will ensure at a torrid pace. I have a feeling that this will be my most productive year ever and I have a list of stuff that I intend to to attack ferociously. So, if you are in the area, feel free to stop by - it will be my de facto home.