The Makings of a
Christian Identity & Assimilation
It has been argued that in a special place, there are women who’s visibility and invisibility grant them access to a kind of privilege and mobility that even the sacred damsel could not experience. In the United States, at the pivot of the 20th century, racialized and gendered boundaries and regulations were created to separate the Christians from the heathens, the public sphere from the private sphere, the white world from the Black world arising. However, few took into consideration the possibility of a middle world. A metaphysical space and time that would create for only a select few, the opportunity to enact a soul project.
Through the erasure and contorting of these boundaries, a Small Nation of Women arose out of a peculiar interstice to conquer the nation and be free.
While middle-Class values were apparent in full and half-length portraits, many elements of Black middle class life were invisible. Virtues, deportment, good grooming skills, and jewelry depicting Christian symbols were articulated through images, and this rendition of Christian notions of virtuous womanhood served as an intervention for a group that had been demonized and ungendered on the plantation. These elements, and this particular medium, articulated domestic allegories of political desire, indications of an interior being and spiritual striving conceptualized by a yearning for socio-political freedoms and respect.
For this small nation of women, Christianity was more than just a religious practice. It served as a qualifying modifier and means towards social and political ascension. Towards transcendence into a middle world where race, class, and gender could not "relegate" them to the servants kitchens and brothels of the industrial cities. Christianity and its articulations of proper womanhood and morale granted these women a particular kind of mobility.
Through experimentation, they developed opportunities to set themselves apart as they pursued power, influence, respect, and full citizenship in a post-emancipation U.S.
Allegories, Renditions and A Small Nation of Women examines African American Women’s History, Christianity, and the citizenship project of the turn of the 19th century. It examines the way that African American portraits can reveal the machinations of elite Black and mixed race 19th and early 20th century women. Through this exhibition, we aim to visualize what the archives could not capture and depict the particular way in which they sought full citizenship through identity formation practices in post-emancipation U.S. In both secular and sacred spaces, innovation and freedom erupted out of the principals and practices of a Christian-American identity. They existed as Black renditions of constructions of Womanhood that depended on their contorted existence, and they were a small burgeoning nation of women.
Works submitted must respond to some the following key words/themes:
Black Women, mixed race Women, late 19th/early 20th century, found photos, tintypes, daguerreotypes, Christianity, the Black Church, middle/upper class, Black Churchwomen's movement, women in power, white dresses/tops, travel/transportation, transcendence