Cleopatra’s Iconoclastic Sculptor Was Her Own Kind of Queen

One
hundred
fifteen
years
after
her
death,
the
trailblazing
Black
and
Native
American
sculptor
Edmonia
Lewis—the
first
American
woman
of
color
to
achieve
international
recognition
in
this
artistic
discipline—is
having
a
moment.
In
January,
the
United
States
Postal
Service

honored
her
with
a
Forever
Stamp
.
And
in
June,
Lewis
was
finally

awarded
her
diploma

from
Oberlin
College,
more
than
a
century-and-a-half
after
she’d
been
forced
to
leave
without
graduating.

The
circumstances
of
her
premature
departure
had
been
unjust.
Lewis
was
accused
(and
acquitted)
of
poisoning
two
of
her
white
housemates,
who’d
been
caught
taking
a
sleigh
ride
with
two
men
in
defiance
of
Oberlin’s
ban
on
unsupervised
co-ed
socializing,
and
defended
themselves
by
claiming
Lewis
had
slipped
them
the
aphrodisiac
Spanish
fly.

Oberlin
was
unconvinced,
but
the
school
constable
eventually
took
Lewis
into
custody
to
protect
her
from
further
harm
after
a
group
of
men
abducted,
stripped
and
beat
her.
The
assailants
may
have
been
incited
to
commit
these
crimes
by
a
series
of
inflammatory
articles
in
the
Cleveland

Plain
Dealer
.
The
newspaper
had
long
held
that
Oberlin’s
co-ed
student
population—and
especially
its
willingness
to
admit
Black
students
in
an
era
when
90
percent
of
the
United
States’
Black
population
was
enslaved—were
both
catastrophes
in
the
making,
and
looked
for
stories
to
prove
its
case.

Recovered
from
her
injuries
and
cleared
of
the
poisoning
charges,
Lewis
was
finally
asked
to
leave
after
a
professor
alleged,
without
evidence,
that
she
had
pilfered
some
art
supplies.

Lewis
biographer

Kirsten
Buick

spoke
with

Sidedoor

host
Lizzie
Peabody
for
the
2019
episode
“Finding
Cleopatra,”
a
classic
from
Season
4
that
the
National
Portrait
Gallery,
home
to
a
gorgeous
c.
1870

photograph

by
Henry
Rocher,

recommends

listeners
revisit.
(They’ve
hosted
the
episode,
with
a
new
introduction
from
the
museum’s
director
and

Portraits

podcast
host
Kim
Sajet,
on
the

Portraits

feed
this
month.)

One
of
Lewis’s
signature
pieces,


The
Death
of
Cleopatra
,
fell
out
of
sight
for
approximately
a
century
before
curator
and
historian

Marilyn
Richardson


tracked
it
down

in
storage
at
a
suburban
Chicago
shopping
mall
in
1988.
As
Richardson
tells
Peabody,
the
3,000-pound
white
marble
sculpture
had
spent
a
period
as
a
decoration
inside
a
saloon—after
being
acquired
by
“a
member
of
the
saloon
underworld,”
who
may
have
meant
it
as
a
memorial
to
his
beloved
horse,
Cleopatra—before
being
exhibited
on
a
golf
course,
outside
a
torpedo
plant,
and
finally,
in
a
storage
room
among
chintzy
holiday
decorations.
Fortunately,

the
artwork
now
resides
in
the
collections

of
the
Smithsonian
American
Art
Museum.

The Death of Cleopatra, Edmonia Lewis, 1876
Edmonia
Lewis
portrayed
Cleopatra
in
the
moment
after
her
death,
wearing
her
royal
attire,
in
majestic
repose
on
a throne. 

SAAM,
gift
of
the
Historical
Society
of
Forest
Park,
Illinois

Cleopatra
was
a
frequent
subject
of
portraiture
in
the
19th
century.
But
she
was
also
a
grand
subject
for
artistic
interpretation,
because
no
one
knew
what
the
ancient
queen,
who’d
died
in
30
B.C.,
looked
like.

Lewis’s
choice
to
sculpt
Cleopatra
with
distinctly
African
facial
features
was
supported
by
her
own
research—she
went
to
the
Vatican
and
examined
coins
minted
with
the
Egyptian
ruler’s
profile
while
the
queen
was
still
alive—but
still
rife
for
interpretation
as
a
political
act
in
her
time.

“For
abolitionists,
Cleopatra
was
a
symbol
of
what
Black
Africans
could
do
if
left
to
themselves,”
Buick
explains.
“For
pro-slavery
groups,
she
was
Greek
and
descended
from
the
Ptolemies.
That’s
the
only
way
you
could
explain
her
greatness:
that
she
was
racially
white.”


Karen
Lemmey
,
the
Smithsonian
American
Art
Museum’s
curator
of
sculpture,
tells
Peabody
that
for
Lewis
to
ground
her
depiction
in
research
was
a
savvy
way
of
sidestepping
the
“debate”
over
Cleopatra’s
race.
“Especially
in
the
19th
century,
where
you
have
this
kind
of
imagining
and
reimagining,
and
fantasy
of
Egypt
and
Cleopatra,
it’s
important
that
[Lewis]
offers
this
anchor
back
into
the
historical
record,”
Lemmey
says.

For
Lemmey,
Lewis’s
rendering
of
the
legendary
queen
offers
clues
as
to
how
the
sculptor
perceived
her
own
place
in
the
world.

Depicting
Cleopatra
moments
after
her
death,
“Lewis
wanted
to
show
Cleopatra
holding
all
the
cards,
claiming
her
last
chapter,
writing
her
history,”
Lemmey
says.
“It’s
especially
extraordinary
when
you
think
this
is
made
by
a
woman
sculptor
at
the
end
of
the
19th
century,
who
herself
has
completely
broken
with
convention.
She
is
unmarried,
she
is
successful.
And,
she
too
is,
is
so
much
in
control
of
her
career.”

Lewis
spent
four
years
sculpting

The
Death
of
Cleopatra
,
and
much
of
her
worldly
wealth
to
acquire
the
marble
and
finally
ship
the
finished
sculpture
from
Rome
to
Philadelphia
for
display
and
potential
sale
at
the
United
States
Centennial
Exhibition.
While
the
piece
was
a
hot
topic
of
conversation,
it
did
not
sell,
and
Lewis,
whose
stateside
fortunes
seemed
to
have
dimmed,
left
it
behind
when
she
returned
to
Europe,
where
she
continued
to
support
herself
as
an
artist
for
another
three
decades.
When
she
died,
she
left
her
estate
of
roughly
60,000
pounds
to
the
Catholic
Church.
And
no
one
knows
much
more
about
her
than
that.

For
Buick,
the
fact
that
so
little
is
known
of
the
intimate
details
of
Lewis’s
life
is
part
of
what
makes
her
such
a
compelling
subject.
“She
was
complicated
and
her
life
was
complicated,”
she
tells
Peabody.
“As
art
historians
and
as
writers,
we
follow
narrative
forms
that
I
don’t
think
do
justice
to
our
subject.
We
try
to
end
on
a
high
note
or
a
low
note
and
I
chose
to
end
elsewhere.
She
remains
unknowable.
And
that’s
not
a
bad
thing.”


Elsewhere
in
the
Smithsonian
Podosphere

Did
Meat
Make
Us
Human
?”
asks
the
newest
episode
of

Sidedoor
,
guest-hosted
by
producer
James
Morrison.
The
theory
that
eating
meat,
high
in
calories
and
rich
in
nutrients,
was
a
major
accelerant
in
the
evolution
of
early
humans’
brains
around
two
million
years
ago,
has
long
been
conventional
wisdom.
But
in
2020,
Briana
Pobiner,
a
paleoanthropologist
with
the
Human
Origins
Program
at
the
Smithsonian’s
National
Museum
of
Natural
History,
and
George
Washington
University
paleoanthropologist
Andrew
Barr,
discovered
that
the
truth
of
how
our
brains
grew
up
is
more
complex.



AirSpace

examines
the
problem
of
catching
Zzzzzzzs
in
zero-g—well,
microgravity—and
experiencing
multiple
sunrises
and
sunsets
per
“night”
in
their
episode
How
Do
You
Sleep?

Astronaut
Mike
Massimino,
a
veteran
of
2002
and
2009
Space
Shuttle
missions,
both
of
which
serviced
the
Hubble
Space
Telescope,
tells
hosts
Emily
Martin,
Nick
Partridge
and
Matt
Shindell:
“The
Space
Shuttle
was
kind
of
like
a
slumber
party.”
Massimino
and
his
crewmates
all
used
sleeping
bags
and
kept
the
same
waking
hours.
Aboard
the
International
Space
Station,
crew
shifts
vary
and
accommodations
are
slightly
more
comfortable.

This
month
on


ARTiculated:
Dispatches
from
the
Archives
of
American
Art
,

hosts
Reggie
Reid
and
Sabine
Lipten
welcome
Brooklyn-based
painter

Maia
Cruz
Palileo
,
who
tucks
into
a
2011
oral
history
of
Kay
WalkingStick,
a
Cherokee
painter
whose
oeuvre
explores
women’s
sexuality,
the
interdependency
of
humanity
and
nature,
and
Native
heritage.
In
the
episode
“Gut
and
Heart:
Painting
with
Kay
WalkingStick,”
Palileo
is
left
with
some
lingering
questions.
So
Palileo
telephones
the
now
87-year-old
WalkingStick,
who
shares
some
advice
her
mother
gave
her
and
grapples
with
the
question
of
her
own
legacy.

Artikel ini diambil dari https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/cleopatras-iconoclastic-sculptor-was-her-own-kind-of-queen-180980828/

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