Allegory, Race and the Four Continents: A Lecture by Charmaine Nelson

Klingenstein Browsing Room, Neilson Library, 7 Neilson Drive, Northampton, MA 01063 (Northampton, MA 01060)

Photo By Lynne Graves

The Kahn Liberal Arts Institute and the Smith College Museum of Art (SCMA) welcome Dr. Charmaine A. Nelson, Provost Professor of Art History and director of the Slavery North Initiative, University of Massachusetts Amherst, to deliver the lecture, “Allegory, Race and the Four Continents: Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux’s Les quatre parties du monde soutenant la sphere céleste (The Four Parts of the World Supporting the Celestial Sphere).”  
This lecture explores Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux’s Les quatre parties du monde soutenant la sphere céleste (1874) as an example of a breach of a longstanding tradition of using female subjects as allegories of continents - a means through which European artists represented the imperial agendas of their nations. Often imagined as a grouping of three or four, the allegory typically reproduced colonial ideals of race within essentialized hierarchies. Such works were readily recognizable and functioned as a celebration of European imperial expansionism, affording white viewers the pleasurable experience of seeing the colonized as abject “other.” Carpeaux’s work breaks with these conventions and illuminates issues of racial classification and legibility. Dr. Nelson examines this controversial, modern French public monument, reading the differences in Carpeaux’s drastic departure from the racial hierarchies of earlier artworks. Indeed, one of the most poignant lessons we can gather from Carpeaux’s non-traditional four continents is the price artists paid for non-adherence, a price coded within art criticism as an intensification of the colonial abjection of the black female subject and the “blackening” of her sisters.  
Charmaine A. Nelson is a Provost Professor of Art History in the Department of History of Art and Architecture and Director of the Slavery North Initiative at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of Black Maple Magazine, one of the only national media platforms aimed at black Canadians.  
From 2020–2022, she was a Tier I Canada Research Chair in Transatlantic Black Diasporic Art and Community Engagement at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) University in Halifax, Canada, where she founded the first-ever institute focused on the study of Canadian Slavery. She also worked at McGill University (Montreal) for seventeen years (2003–2020). Nelson has made ground-breaking contributions to the Visual Culture of Slavery, Race and Representation, Black Diaspora Studies, and Black Canadian Studies.  
She has published seven 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).
For disability access information or accommodation requests, please call 413-585-2407. To request a sign language interpreter, email at least ten days before the event.  
Photo of Dr. Charmaine Nelson by Meghan Tansey Whitton.