Object Image

No be ganado mi libertad sobre las espaldas

inkjet print on cotton paper with archival pigment $1600

“No be ganado mi libertad sobre las espaldas”, is based on the original oil painting by Marie Guihelmine Benoist (1768 - 1826), titled Portrait d'une Négresse. Benoist is a French female artist who comes from an aristocrat lineage and belong to a small elite group of professional female painters. Marie was married to a lawyer who was once the adviser of King Louis XVI, she studied under Jacques-Louis David and Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun, who was the court painter to Queen Marie Antoinette. Portrait d'une négresse was later bought by King Louis XVIII and can be found on the second level of the Louvre Museum in their neoclassical collection.

Marie painted the unknown black female figure, who was probably a servant brought from the Antilles by her brother in law, in a time when it was considered “ungrateful” to paint black skin. People of African descendant in French society were considered non-French and categorized as “exotic” or “oriental”, never to be recognized as participants in forming modern French society. Influence by Le Brun, Benoist painted the figure with her right breast partially exposed to represent liberty. During this period the abolition of slavery briefly occurred between a 1794 emancipation decree to the restoration of slavery in 1802. It is said that the painting represents in part as a tribute to the French emancipation of slaves and as a celebration of the hopes expressed in many emancipation prints with inscriptions of “moi égal à toi” (free like you), in which several prints represent females.

Across the Atlantic in New Orleans a free woman of color went on record in court in 1795 stating “No be ganado mi libertad sobre las espaldas”, translating to “I did not earn my freedom on my back”, in which the author illustrates the need to dispelled stereotypes that are insulting to black and mixed-blood women as well as to the men with whom they were allied. The Spanish government’s edict of the Tignon did not consider the established relationships among the racially diverse Louisiana community. The free women of color population were of all status: mothers, sisters, daughters, nurse to the many sick and dying in the colony, in addition to manumitted slave concubines who also function as informal wives, all of which earned their freedom through many different paths of hard work, that included getting their non-white children recognized by their white fathers. Steps such as this highlights the significance the free women of color had in shaping modern society during the 18th century in Louisiana.

Artist Chesley Antoinette is the creator and designer of Cantoinette Studios, conceptualizing with sustainable practices in forms of sculptural installations, wearable art, and curatorial projects. In her Tignon [teyoN] exhibtion, she presents a series of turbans referencing the headwraps of Creole women. In 18th century New Orleans, Louisiana women of African decent were forced to wear the tignon when in public. The focus was particularly on the free women of color population with the intention to oppres their beauty, intelligence, and mobility.

Eufronina Hisnard was a native to New Orleans, she was the daughter to Maria Grondel, described as “negre libre” and her father was Don Francisco Hisnard, making the daughter “mulata libre”. At fifteen years old, Eufronina becomes the concubine (not married by choice or force) to Don Nicolas Vidal whose arrival in 1791 to New Orleans as the war auditor, by 1792 they begin cohabiting. Together they have three children, one who died seven days after birth. New Orleans had an unhealthy semitropical climate and low-lying mosquito infested terrain, took the lives of children at young ages with diseases like smallpox, yellow fever, influenza, and malaria.

When France ceded Louisiana in 1803, the Hisnards moved to Pensacola, where Don Nicolas died and named Eufronina and their daughters as heirs. This image is based on the painting titled “A Lady Attended by a Servant” by Brunias, an Italian painter commissioned to the Caribbean by the British, made record of the changing society through colonization, the effect was Afro-European families. The Spanish government believe in “limpieza sangre” the purity of blood, no longer being applied to religion, but rather skin color, to protect Spanish identities and the distribution of wealth.

The Spanish laws and customs purposely maintained inequalities based on: race, gender, religion, occupation, wealth, and lineage. It was their belief that it went against nature for all people to be equal.

The Tignon was to be used as a symbolic tool of oppression, aimed at the beauty of African descendant women, and to create division among the non-conventional lifestyle choices. However, with the mutual benefits, some white European males could formulate liaisons outside of traditional marriage without social stigma, despite the views of the governor, and the women, both slave and free could acquire freedom, property, and/or status and influence. Despite what might be perceived as a “positive” experience of consensual partnerships, there were distinct disadvantages to informal unions, the free women of color might have secured some privileges for themselves and their children, however overall public opinion condemn them as lewd, lascivious, and licentious in New Orleans and throughout the Americas.

copyright owner: Chesley Antoinette photo credit: JD Moore stylist: Courtney Guy make up: Steven Hill Model: Hathor Hendrix

26.0 x 40.0in

Where you'll find this