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Unnamed Figures: Black Presence and Absence in the Early American North


May 1, 2024, 9:30 am
August 4, 2024, 4:30 pm
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Flynt Center of Early New England Life
37 Old Main Street
Deerfield, MA 01342 United States
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Joseph Shoemaker Russell (American, 1795-1860). Dining Room of Abraham Russell, New Bedford, c. 1840s. Watercolor on paper, 6.5 x 9 in. (16.5 x 22.9 cm.) New Bedford Whaling Museum, Gift of Mrs. Edward K. Simpson, 1962.4.13. Image courtesy of the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

Coming to Historic Deerfield in May, 2024

Unnamed Figures: Black Presence and Absence in the Early American North will be on view at Historic Deerfield’s Flynt Center from May 1 to August 4, 2024.

As a corrective to histories that define slavery and anti-Black racism as a largely Southern issue, this exhibition offers a new window onto Black representation in a region that is often overlooked in narratives of early African American history.

Through 125 remarkable works including paintings, needlework, and photographs, this exhibition invites visitors to focus on figures who appear in—or are omitted from—early American images and will challenge conventional narratives that have minimized early Black histories in the North, revealing the complexities and contradictions of the region’s history between the late 1600s and early 1800s.

Despite their vital importance, the experiences and contributions of Black figures in the Northeast have often been ignored or minimized. As a reflection of this, the content of the exhibition is also shaped by considerations of absence. By incorporating works that do not feature Black figures, in spite of historical Black presence within the same spaces, the exhibition will encourage visitors to consider how this erasure of marginalized voices continues to shape our understanding of the past.

Before coming to Deerfield, the exhibition will be on view at the American Folk Art Museum in New York City from November 15, 2023 to March 24, 2024.

A 300-page scholarly book with contributions from Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, Jennifer Van Horn, and several authors, will be published to coincide with the exhibition.