The Department of Art & Art History's J. Fred Weintz & Rosemary Weintz Art Lecture Series presents "'He…has the ends of both his great toes frozen off': Enslaved and Free Black Presence, Experience, and Representation in the Quebec Winter," a lecture by Charmaine Nelson, Professor of Art History at McGill University.
When in 1688, King Louis XIV of France was petitioned to allow the importation of enslaved people from the French Caribbean into New France, he expressed concern for the ability of Africans to adapt to Canadian winters. With the “success” of New England Slavery upheld as evidence of African acclimatization in the region, royal assent was given in 1689. Although present in the region from at least the early seventeenth century, both free and enslaved blacks, regardless of ancestry, have been continuously unhomed in Canada. The erasure of an historical black Canadian presence has in part been facilitated by historical pseudo-scientific ideas of African unsuitability to Canada’s cold climate.
This lecture develops two Quebec case studies of the representation of black people in the Canadian winter, the first a set of eighteenth-century fugitive slave advertisements (which will be analyzed as visual culture), and the second, a nineteenth-century studio portrait of African-Canadian sitters by the prominent nineteenth-century photography studio William Notman and Son. The first case study explores a set of five fugitive slave advertisements for winter escapes to expose what they reveal about the nature of slave experience and resistance in Canada. The second case study argues that the choice of a winter backdrop for a Montreal studio portrait in 1901 was a bold counter-hegemonic assertion of African-Canadian belonging at a moment of wide-spread anti-black immigration sentiment.
Charmaine A. Nelson is a professor of art history at McGill University. She has made groundbreaking contributions to the fields of the visual sulture of slavery, race and representation, and Black Canadian studies. Nelson has published seven books including Slavery, Geography, and Empire in Nineteenth-Century Marine Landscapes of Montreal and Jamaica (2016), and Towards an African Canadian Art History: Art, Memory, and Resistance (2018). Her media work includes CBC, BBC One, PBS, Huffington Post Canada, and The Walrus. Most recently, she was the William Lyon Mackenzie King Visiting Professor of Canadian Studies at Harvard University (2017-18).
Image: Azariah Pretchard Senr., “Run away from the Subscriber,” Quebec Gazette, 22 May 1794.
This lecture series is made possible by a generous grant from Fred Weintz and Rosemary Weintz.
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