By Celeste-Marie Bernier
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Library of Congress Catalog Card quantity: 53-11064
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Extra resources for African American Visual Arts (British Association for American Studies (BAAS) Paperbacks)
Ultimately, Dave experimented with literary language on his pots to resist his chattel status. While it is likely that Dave’s intended audience was enslaved men and women, this may not be the whole story. Among his couplets are many which offer warnings including: ‘If you don’t listen at the bible, you will be lost’ (25 March 1859. : 256); and ‘I made this Jar all of cross/ If you don’t repent, you will be lost’ (3 May 1862. : 256). These lines are most likely to have been directed towards his black viewers to raise their religious awareness.
Ultimately, Ball’s use of the series format countered assumptions made by whites in mainstream iconography that the totality of black masculinity could be contained in a single image. Ball’s first work – Portrait of William Biggerstaff seated in a chair with his hand on his face, wearing a flower in his lapel – intervenes into mainstream representations of African American masculinity by dramatising Biggerstaff’s humanity. This image resonates with conventional portraits of dignified subjects to portray Biggerstaff in a relaxed pose, seated in an ornate chair and with his right hand resting beneath his chin.
The first panel telling the story of Eve’s temptation in the Garden of Eden adopts a flat picture plane to depict a grey Adam, a white Eve, a snake and an assortment of animals including an elephant, leopards and a deer. Powers’s representation of the snake overwhelms the human figures and the picture frame by its enlarged size, anthropomorphic feet and black and orange stripes. The serpent not only symbolises human frailty and the risks of temptation within Western Christian iconography but also carries other connotations in light of its sacred power in some African cultures.