College of Liberal Arts

CANCELED: Diaspora Talk Series: Miscegenation in Marble, or the Greek Slave’s Dusky Daughter

Thursday Oct 19, 2017 3:00 PM - 4:30 PM | Gordon-White Building


Miscegenation in Marble, or the Greek Slave’s Dusky Daughter:

John Bell’s Octoroon and the Enslaved Mixed-Race Beauty in British Visual Culture

In 1868, three years after the end of the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery, fashionable British sculptor John Bell debuted his work The Octoroon at the annual Royal Academy exhibition in London. An unclothed, alabaster beauty with dainty wrists bound in chains, Bell's sculpture represented a mixed-race slave girl from Louisiana. Like previous nude marble sculptures of lovely female captives, most notably Hiram Powers's Greek SlaveThe Octoroon ostensibly aimed to inspire Victorian viewers beyond their erotic impulses to the highest echelons of moral and aesthetic contemplation. However, in this case, racial difference made all the difference. The "exotic" racial identity of Bell's sculpture--seven parts white, the last eight black--could prompt viewers to read cold, white marble as hot, sensuous flesh! Using Bell's Octoroon as a case study but attending to other examples as well, this talk will explore the faddish fascination with beautiful, light-skinned slave girls in British Victorian culture, especially after the abolition of slavery made the political mobilization of such figures moot.  Drawn from Dr. Bagneris’s second book, Imagining the Oriental South: The Enslaved Mixed-Race Beauty in British Visual Culturec. 1865-1880, the talk will also highlight visual and rhetorical echoes between British depictions of antebellum Louisiana and concurrent expressions of Orientalism.

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