Charmaine Nelson, who earned her BFA and MFA at Concordia, will give the next lecture in the Art History Speakers Series.
Her topic is a neo-classical sculpture called Hagar, by the early African-American artist Edmonia Lewis. For Nelson, who is currently working at a museum in Harlem, Hagar says volumes about slavery and the treatment of black women.
Hagar was the servant of Sarah, the wife of the biblical patriarch Abraham. Because Abraham and Sarah were too old to have children, Abraham used Hagar to conceive an heir. God intervened, Sarah gave birth to Isaac, and Sarah jealously threw poor Hagar out, along with her son Ishmael.
Edmonia Lewis was born in the 1840s of mixed Chippeway and African descent, and was active in abolitionist circles during the Reconstruction period that followed the Civil War. After much difficulty, she obtained an education, notably at Oberlin College, and became the first black American sculptor, male or female, to achieve an international reputation. She eventually settled in the expatriate American community in Rome.
Nelson has had her own difficulties. When she graduated from Concordia in 1995, she worked for a year at the War Museum in Ottawa, then started a doctoral program at Queen's University. However, she found the academic atmosphere conservative and the Queen's art history department unprepared for her and her field of interest, the artistic representation of the black female body.
After a year of conflict at Queen's, she went to New York. She worked last summer at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, in SoHo, and is now at the Studio Museum in Harlem, putting together the first catalogue of its permanent collection.
In the fall, she'll head to the University of Manchester, in northern England, to finish her PhD under Marcia Pointon, who spoke here recently in the Art History Speakers Series.
Charmaine Nelson will speak on "Edmonia Lewis's Hagar: An Intimate Statement Contemporary Black Womanhood" on Wednesday, March 25, at 10:30 a.m., in Room 323, 1395 René-Lévesque Blvd. W. - BB