Art history buff Dr. Charmaine A. Nelson speaks of oppression and rebellion
Newspapers are like snapshots into another time. Columns on the war effort or ‘women’s sections’ speak to a past with social norms and constructs that are now almost completely foreign to contemporary culture.
Dr. Charmaine A. Nelson, an Art History professor from McGill, decided to use this stark difference in historical paper clippings. Her research, supported by the William Lyon Mackenzie King scholarship for Canadian studies at Harvard University, juxtaposes clippings from Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Jamaica to analyze creolization through visuals detailed in news clippings.
But the advertisements her talk will focus on are for missing fugitive slaves in Quebec from the 18th century.
“She really looks at these advertisements as a type of portraiture,” says AGA public programs and outreach coordinator Manon Gaudet. “Most people don’t really think of Canada as having a history of slavery and so that’s something that she really looks to bring to the forefront because it’s important to our own relationships to this day.”
Using standardized images of male and female slaves, the ads had the most similarities to what a lost pet ad would cover—a thorough description of the individual, the place and time of running away, and often a reward offered.
An featured example is “Negro Lad named Joe.” He’s described as “born in Africa,” and “a little marked with the small-pox.” The ad placed by the local printer goes on to say, “all persons are hereby forewarned from harbouring or aiding him to escape, as they may depend on being prosecuted to the utmost rigour of the Law,” before offering a $4 reward for information or his return.
“It really gives you this insight into this person’s experience and their life,” Gaudet says.
The same notice was placed in the Quebec Gazette four times over the course of five months leaving us all to wonder what became of Joe; had he found freedom in some remote place? We will likely never know, but what we can say from snapshots of lives like Joe’s is that these people were showing profound agency in harrowing circumstances.
This is just one example of many, and although the language and simple existence of the ad is shocking to us today, Dr. Nelson finds the ads to represent a strong common resistance of Africans and Indigenous people against slavery at the time.
Her talk will discuss the relationship people today with African and Indigenous ancestry share, given their shared circumstances throughout history.
“I think both [groups] are still working through this and working through their histories,” says Gaudet. “There’s something potentially really valuable about looking at those histories together and thinking about how then, there’s potential for the future.”
The lecture is organized in relations with the AGA’s Turbulent Landings exhibition (until Jan. 7) looking at human movement and migration throughout history all the way into present day. Many of those migrations, however, were forced. Slavery is one such example, and its impact on those transported to North America as well as history as a whole resounds to this day.
Thu., Nov. 30 (7 pm)
Canadian macassins and English shoes
Art Gallery of Alberta