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Haiti’s Revolution in Art: Jacob Lawrence’s Toussaint L’Ouverture Series

As a young student of American history, Jacob Lawrence was frustrated with the lack of narratives addressing the African American experience, as well as the absence of black heroes from history books. He later discovered that there were indeed black heroes to admire and emulate, including Harriet Tubman. He was most fascinated, however, with the leader of the 18th-century Haitian Revolution, Toussaint L’Ouverture (1743–1803). In 1938 he painted his first image of the narrative, but soon realized that this great and complex story needed to be a series. Eventually, Lawrence would create 41 panels about Toussaint L’Ouverture and the struggle for Haitian self-governance. A gifted printmaker, he decided to create a portfolio of 15 screenprints based on the panels.

Echoing Thomas Jefferson’s words that “all men are created equal,” Toussaint L’Ouverture said, “I was born a slave, but nature gave me the soul of a free man.” This sentiment informed his leadership of the Haitian Revolution, and created what was the first free colonial state in which race was not a factor in determining social status.

The 15 screenprints comprising the portfolio are being generously lent by Harriet and Harmon Kelley.

****Also on view "100 Years of Printmaking in San Antonio: Mary Bonner" (January 4, 2018 to April 1, 2018)

Relevant research areas: North America, 20th Century, Screenprinting

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