popular
José Bedia, Júbilo de Aponte, 2017, mixed media on mixed papers Courtesy of the artist

These Artists Re-Imagined The Artwork of an Afro-Cuban Revolutionary

'Visionary Aponte: Art and Black Freedom' is a new exhibition bringing a lost book of paintings to life.

To date, the court testimony of José Antonio Aponte, a free black man thought to be of Yoruba origin and eponym of the doomed 1812 anti-slavery rebellion in Cuba that bears his name, is the only evidence of an unusual historical artifact, a so-called libro de pinturas or "book of paintings," found hidden in his home by colonial authorities.


Though the book remains lost, the 72 images that Aponte describes, many of which depict an evocative vision of black history, continue to exist in the imagination of scholars and artists alike. Now, more than two centuries later, a group of artists have attempted to recreate Aponte's revolutionary "book of paintings," as part of a new exhibition entitled, "Visionary Aponte: Art and Black Freedom."

15 artists were invited to participate to "pay homage to the singularity of Jose Antonio Aponte's world vision," explains Édouard Duval-Carrié. The Haitian-born artist and Miami resident is one of several curators of the exhibit, as well as one of its featured artists. In fact, it was Duval-Carrié that approached fellow curator Ada Ferrer with the idea to do an exhibit after coming across her book, Freedom's Mirror: Cuba and Haiti in the Age of Revolution.

Édouard Duval-Carrié, Prester John's Emissaries, 2017, mixed media on paper in artist's frame Courtesy of the artist

"Édouard's idea, I think, also intersected with scholarly interest in broadening our understanding of Aponte as the artist behind this lost work of art," says Linda Rodriguez, an Aponte scholar and another of the exhibit's curators. She and Ferrer also helped to organize a symposium in 2015 which in turn led to a project entitled Digital Aponte, a recently launched website dedicated to the life and work of Aponte.

In a way, "Visionary Aponte: Art and Black Freedom" expands upon at least one of the aims of the symposium, which Rodriguez describes as "thinking deeply about Aponte as a creator, in addition to his role as an organizer of slave rebellions." The result is a wide-ranging exhibit of artwork by mostly Caribbean artists, as well as the more general African diaspora of the Americas, in which Aponte's book becomes what Rodriguez hopes viewers will recognize as a "living object."

"Some like Marielle Plaisir (Martinique) and myself went to great lengths to reconstruct the images (laminas) as they were interpreted in the trial's transcripts," Duval-Carrié explains. "Others such as Jose Bedia (Cuba) and Renée Stout (USA) were more interested in conveying the general spirit behind the the book itself particularly their understanding of Kongo cultures as they expressed themselves in the New World and as they understood it. While many others just had gut reactions to the story itself."

Marielle Plaisir, Lámina 23, 2017, inks, gold pigment, pencils on paper Courtesy of the artist

It certainly helps that the "book of paintings" is itself a rich source of imagery. "Aponte represented figures and scenes that spanned centuries and continents, including Greco-Roman mythological figures, scenes from Bible, personages from Ethiopian history, buildings and locations in Havana, depictions of Europe and Asia, and members of his own family," says Rodriguez. (For a full list of the book's subject matter, go here.)

Still, there is an almost inscrutable quality to Aponte's book. "Likely, colonial authorities used the word "painting" as they had no other way to succinctly describe what they were seeing," says Rodriguez. Moreover, the book was perceived to be a subversive threat. "Colonial officials believed Aponte's book to be central to his organizing and they focused a lot of their energy on trying to understand it," according to Rodríguez.

In Ferrer's opinion, "The exhibit provides a tangible example of the ways art and politics can each inform the other." "Aponte used his art to imagine other worlds, and that process of imagining other worlds was also part of his revolutionary politics," she continues.

"It resonates in a lot of ways with our contemporary debates on the politics of representation," adds Rodriguez. She cites the #OscarsSoWhite campaign by April Reign as one such example: "She [Reign] has talked about how she wanted her campaign to question the structural reasons behind the lack of inclusive storytelling. In similar ways, Aponte recognized the importance of the visual to write known and new histories at the service of an imagined and more equal future."

Among other things, Ferrer hopes that those who see the exhibit will develop "a knowledge and appreciation of Aponte as both an antislavery revolutionary and as an artist and creator." Yet it is a much broader perspective on display, as Rodriguez notes: "Aponte's vision of the African diaspora, and black history provided his viewers with a vision of belonging."

"Visionary Aponte: Art and Black Freedom" opens on December 8th at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex in Miami, FL. Afterwards, the exhibit will be on display at the NYU King Juan Carlos of Spain Center in New York from February to May 2018, before making its way to Duke University in the Fall of 2018.

Juan Roberto Diago, Tarraco, 2017 Courtesy of the artist

Arts + Culture
Zlatan "Zanku (Leg Work)" music video.

Is Zanku Set to Be the New Dance Craze of 2019?

Breaking down what could become the year's new dance craze.

With last week's release of the video for "Zanku (Leg Work)," Zlatan Ibile has consecrated himself as the originator of the newest dance craze in afropop.

The specific origin of the name 'zanku' is uncertain but the dance itself, says Ibile in this interview from December, is one he noticed from his visits to The Shrine in Lagos and refashioned into a trend.

The best zanku, so far, works best in beats combining repeated foot tapping or pounding, with hands held aloft, and finished with a flourish—a stylised thrusting of one foot as if to knock down a door. Variations include a faster footwork, mimicry of slicing and screwing hand motions and the brandshing of a white kerchief, all of which is done with vigour and attitude.

Keep reading... Show less
popular
WurlD. Image courtesy of the artist.

WurlD: Nigeria's Most Inspired Star?

We talk to the Nigerian artist about creating a sound that connects to the quintessential Afropolitan mind.

WurlD, the blue-haired singer with a killer voice and deep songwriting, is a wonder. His music sits at the intersection between African vibes and Western delivery. 2018 has been a huge for him, with a deal with Universal Music ensuring that his art has received consistency in release.

Born Sadiq Onifade, the Afro-Fusion artist has had an inspiring journey, moving from the streets of Mushin in Lagos, to the US, from where much of his music has been conceived. The complete creative embrace of that cross-cultural influence has become his strongest point, with songs such as "Show You Off" and "Contagious" offering a unique angle to his sound.

"Moving to America for me gave me the opportunity to learn music and I fell in love with songwriting," WurlD says of his influence. "Atlanta (where I lived) is a creative hub when it comes to songwriting and producing, some of the biggest songs in the world were produced in Atlanta, people round the world go to Atlanta to go meet producers and songwriters in Atlanta. There, I fell in love with music and songwriting."

Keep reading... Show less
popular
Still from YouTube.

France Still Doesn't Know How Racism Works and the Vilification of Nick Conrad Proves It

The French rapper is currently on trial for his music video "Hang White People," which depicts what life might be like if the racial tables were turned.

When the music video "Pendez les Blancs" ("Hang White people") by French rapper Nick Conrad was released, the backlash was intense. The video shows what life would be if black people had enslaved white people. "Hang white people… arm them and let them kill each other" Conrad raps. He is not the first artist to think about a life where Black people would dominate white people. Todric Hall's music video "Forbidden" and Malorie Blackman's novels "Noughts and Crosses" did it before. But in France, a country that still tries to stop Black people from organising as a community, Nick Conrad had to pay the price.

First, he received countless death threats and lost his job at a prestigious French hotel. Everyone, from French personalities to the government called him out. And then, two anti-racist and anti-semitism organizations, the LICRA and L'AGRIF sued him. His trial happened last week. French journalist Sihame Assbague was there to witness it, and what she reports is baffling.

To the prosecution, Conrad is encouraging his audience to kill white people. They believe that anti white racism or "reverse racism" is just as bad as any type of racism and that Conrad is using a "black supremacist language" with words like "queen" "king" when he mentions Africa. In their mind, once Black people stop trying to integrate and start organising themselves, it's just as bad as white people being racist. Ethnocentrism is dangerous.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.