Charmaine Nelson

thu oct 15 / 13:30 – 15:00 / public
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Azariah Pretchard Senr., RUN away from the Subscriber, Quebec Gazette, 22 May 1794, vol. 1506, p. 5, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, Montreal.

He… has the ends of both his great toes frozen off: Enslaved and Free Black Presence, Experience, and Representation in the Quebec Winter

Charmaine A. Nelson, Professor of Art History and Tier I Canada Research Chair in Transatlantic Black Diasporic Art and Community Engagement at NSCAD University, Halifax, NS

When in 1688, King Louis XIV of France was petitioned to allow the importation of enslaved people from the French Caribbean into New France, he expressed concern for the ability of Africans to adapt to Canadian winters. With the “success” of New England Slavery upheld as evidence of African acclimatization in the region, royal assent was given in 1689. Although present in the region from at least the early seventeenth century, both free and enslaved blacks, regardless of ancestry, have been continuously unhomed in Canada. The erasure of an historical black Canadian presence has in part been facilitated by historical pseudo-scientific ideas of African unsuitability to Canada’s cold climate.

This lecture develops two Quebec case studies of the representation of black people in the Canadian winter, the first a set of eighteenth-century fugitive slave advertisements (which will be analyzed as visual culture), and the second, a nineteenth-century studio portrait of African-Canadian sitters by the prominent nineteenth-century photography studio William Notman and Son. The first case study explores a set of fugitive slave advertisements for winter escapes to expose what they reveal about the nature of slave experience and resistance in Canada. The second case study argues that the choice of a winter backdrop for a Montreal studio portrait in 1901, was a bold counter-hegemonic assertion of African-Canadian belonging at a moment of wide-spread anti-black immigration sentiment.

photo: Charles Michael

Charmaine A. Nelson is a Professor of Art History and a Tier I Canada Research Chair in Transatlantic Black Diasporic Art and Community Engagement at NSCAD University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She is also the founding director of the first ever institute focused on the study of Canadian Slavery. She has also taught at McGill University (2003-2020) and Western University (2001-2003).

Nelson has made ground-breaking contributions to the fields of the Visual Culture of Slavery, Race and Representation, and Black Canadian Studies. To date she has published 7 books including The Color of Stone: Sculpting the Black Female Subject in Nineteenth-Century America (2007), Slavery, Geography, and Empire in Nineteenth-Century Marine Landscapes of Montreal and Jamaica (2016), and Towards an African Canadian Art History: Art, Memory, and Resistance (2018), the first book to consolidate the field of African Canadian Art History. Nelson has given over 240 lectures, papers, and talks across Canada, and the USA, and in Mexico, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, the UK, Central America, and the Caribbean. She is also actively engaged with lay audiences through her media work including ABC, CBC, CTV, BBC One, and PBS. She blogs for the Huffington Post Canada and writes for The Walrus. Nelson has held several prestigious fellowships and appointments including a Caird Senior Research Fellowship, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, UK (2007) and a Fulbright Visiting Research Chair, University of California – Santa Barbara (2010). Most recently, she was the William Lyon Mackenzie King Visiting Professor of Canadian Studies at Harvard University (2017-2018).

Much gratitude to the sponsors of this session.

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