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Charmaine Nelson to give Art Talk on Nov. 15 in Charlottetown

Charmaine Nelson is involved in researching Nova Scotia’s slave-owning history.
CHARLIE MICHAEL
Charmaine Nelson - File photo
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —

The Confederation Centre Art Gallery (CCAG), in collaboration with the Faculty of Arts at UPEI, welcomes guest lecturer Charmaine A. Nelson, who will give a presentation on Nov. 15 at the gallery. 

Nelson, a professor of art history with Halifax's NSCAD University, is also a Canada research chair in transatlantic Black diasporic art and community engagement and serves as the founding director of the Institute for the Study of Canadian Slavery with NSCAD.

She will discuss representations of slavery in Canadian visual culture, the challenges of research in a field with an almost non-existent archive and the direction of a new academic institution.

She will also present portions of her paper, Fugitive Slave Advertisements and/as Portraiture in late 18th- and early 19th-century Canada.

Her arrival in this region is wonderful news, says CCAG director Kevin Rice, who adds it’s an honour to be able to host her talk at the gallery. 

The gallery is also looking forward to working with her in the future, as her research is particularly timely as Canada is undergoing a critical re-examination of its history, including the presence of slavery and its racializing aftermath in what has so often been described as a beacon of equality. 

“The echoes of these events are still with us and foregrounding the work of scholars like Dr. Nelson is a way we can contribute to a better understanding of how we got to this point.”

Due to COVID-19 health precautions, space is limited for this event, and registration is now full. Patrons can have their name added to a waiting list by contacting Tamara Steele at [email protected]e.com.

Nelson has made ground-breaking contributions to the fields of the visual culture of slavery, race and representation and Black Canadian studies and has published seven books in these areas. She has also worked with a variety of media and, most recently, was the Mackenzie King visiting professor of Canadian studies at Harvard University (2017-18). 

Found throughout the transatlantic world, fugitive slave advertisements demonstrate the frequency of African resistance to slavery. Produced by white slave owners seeking to recapture their property, these advertisements included textual descriptions that were also fundamentally visual and comprise an archive of very dubious, unauthorized portraits that have come to stand as “the most detailed descriptions of the bodies of enslaved African Americans available”, according to Nelson's research. 

Besides noting things like names, speech, accents and skills, fugitive slave notices frequently recounted the dress, branding and even the gestures and expressions of runaways. Nelson explores the juxtaposition of high art representations of enslaved Africans with the textual descriptions of enslaved people’s bodies and positions these visuals as one part of the colonial infrastructure that sustained the racialized distinction between free and unfree populations.

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