Friday, July 1, 2011
This is just a short post to showcase this image. I saw it in a documentary called Faubourg Treme - The Untold Story of Black New Orleans. The woman in the image actually wasn't a New Orleanian. She was Haitian, and the engraving was made around the time of the Haitian Revolution. I think they chose to use it in a documentary about New Orleans because refugees from the revolution streamed into the city in 1809, more than doubling its population. So there is a Haiti-New Orleans connection, but I imagine the real reason they used it is the caption, which translates as "I am your equal". I don't know French, so I wouldn't have even noticed except that the documentary translated the main heading. The rest of it says (if my amateurish translation can be trusted) "Color is nothing, the heart is everything; am I not your brother?"
I thought this was pretty moving. Here's a young black woman, at a time when most black people in this hemisphere were enslaved, and commonly thought to be inferior beings, gazing straight ahead to meet anybody's eye. Her look seconds what the caption says.
But who was this woman? What became of her? The portrait doesn't say, and there doesn't even seem to be much written about the engraver, François Bonneville, even though he also did a portrait of Toussaint Louverture. There's a lot of mystery here, and if I have time, I'll try to solve some of it. What's not mysterious, though, is what this image is saying, and how bold it was to say it at that time. I don't know who that woman was, but she's got my respect.