First reflection on the Afric-American Picture Gallery

The “Afric-American Picture Gallery” is a series of papers authored by Ethiop, a pseudoname, and published in the Anglo-African Magazine of 1859. Contrary to its title,¬†Ethiop’s essays¬†do not come with any illustrations whatsoever (perhaps he espouses the need for increased visibility of black art). Instead, it is a collection of descriptions of imaginary pieces of art and a mish-mash of different genres of stories. But it matters little whether or not there are any illustrations, because for Ethiop’s purposes, art is just a medium for putting forth ideas. By following the critic and interpretations from the narrator, we are drawn into an argument and view that Ethiop composes.

Let’s take a look at, for example, “Picture IX. – Mount Vernon”. The narrator begins with a tirade about the popularity and prevalence of “Mount Vernon” in American society then. It is a eminent symbol much like our American flag today. Such a picture of Mount Vernon should no doubt be drawn with much patriotism and glory for it was “once the Home of the Father of his Country”. Yet with the convenience of the picture being imagined, Ethiop is able to distort this glorified symbol and present his own stark and shocking view. He describes upon the decay of the house. The subsequent observation of the depiction slavery, especially with Washington’s very own bones for sale, suggests strongly that slavery is the cause of this decay. With this, Ethiop has called upon the patriotism of Americans to effect a change into their thinking.

Another perplexing aspect of Ethiop’s papers is the writing style. He begins the papers with a series of descriptions of a few pictures. Then, the narrator goes on an adventure before going back to the gallery to take part in a titillating debate.


Author: Eric Xin

Renaissance Computing Inst