Exploring the Visible Invisibility of Black Women in 18th to 19th Century European Paintings

This digital exhibition aims to shed light on the nuanced representations of Black women in European art during the 18th to 19th centuries, a period marked by significant social changes such as abolition movements and shifts in colonial empires. Amidst these transformations, Black women often occupied a visually present yet marginalized space in artistic narratives, embodying a duality of visibility and invisibility. By showcasing Black women in diverse societal and domestic roles—ranging from servants in aristocratic households to performers in public spectacles—the exhibition prompts us to contemplate the intricacies of their depiction. These artworks not only place Black women in the backdrop of European life but also occasionally thrust them into the foreground, urging a reassessment of their roles in visual culture and society.
The exhibition delves into the complexities of visibility as both recognition and marginalization. It explores how Black women were simultaneously integral yet overlooked, their representations often eclipsed by those of their white counterparts or idealized landscapes. Through these portrayals, we glimpse the intricate dynamics of inclusion and exclusion, where material culture—such as clothing, objects, and settings—plays a crucial role in understanding these nuances.
This curated selection of artworks invites viewers to contemplate the historical invisibility of Black women in art despite their undeniable presence, challenging the narratives that have traditionally dominated European art history. By reexamining these representations, the exhibition aims to cultivate a deeper appreciation for Black women’s contributions to and interactions with the material world, enriching our comprehension of their cultural and historical significance.

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