Aponte and His World Conference Dives into A Radical Vision of Slave Uprising

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Dominique Serres, The Capture of Havana, 1762: Taking the Town, 14 August, c. 1775, oil on canvas

Written by CLACS MA Candidate Constanza Ontaneda Rehman-Khedker

Coming soon, on Friday May 8th and Saturday May 9th, NYU will be proud to host a one-of-a-kind two-day conference centered on the leader of the 1811-1812 massive slave rebellion in Cuba. “José Antonio Aponte. José Antonio Aponte and His World: Writing, Painting, and Making Freedom in the African Diaspora,” will feature more than twenty renowned scholars from NYU, and other distinguished institutions in the U.S. and abroad, who will discuss the visionary leader, his legendary “book of paintings,” and the future direction of “Apontian” scholarship.

Over the past fifteen years, scholars have shown a renewed interest in the political and historical legacy of José Antonio Aponte (?-1812), a free man of color, carpenter, artist, and alleged leader of a massive antislavery conspiracy and rebellion in colonial Cuba in 1811-1812. Aponte was also the creator of an unusual work of art—a “book of paintings” full of historical and mythical figures, including black kings, emperors, priests, and soldiers that he showed to and discussed with fellow conspirators. Aponte’s vision of a black history connected a diasporic and transatlantic past to the possibility of imagining a sovereign future for free and enslaved people of color in colonial Cuba. Although the “book of paintings” is believed to be lost, colonial Spanish officials interrogated Aponte about its contents after arresting him for organizing the rebellions, and Aponte’s sometimes elaborate, always elusive, descriptions of the book’s pages survive in the archival trial records.

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Gilles-Louis Chrétien after a drawing by Fouquet, Potrait of Vincent Ogé, 1790, engraving

From myriad academic backgrounds in the humanities, historians, anthropologists, philosophers, literary scholars, and art historians explore the figure of Aponte as artist, intellectual, revolutionary, and theorist. In addition to this scholarly interest, Aponte has also been re-enshrined as a national figure in contemporary Cuba, following a 2012 bicentennial that commemorated his death at the hands of colonial authorities. However, given the recent scholarly and public focus on Aponte, there has not yet been a conference dedicated to the interdisciplinary scholarly perspectives that have sought to advance the study of the singular “book of paintings” and its visionary creator.

“José Antonio Aponte. José Antonio Aponte and His World: Writing, Painting, and Making Freedom in the African Diaspora,” brings together scholars to discuss the current state of “Apontian” studies and suggest future directions for scholarship. It includes, as well, scholars doing work on questions of historical memory, the intellectual history of the enslaved, and the relationship between text, image, and politics in other settings in order to put Aponte’s history in conversation with a wider world, much, indeed, as his own “book of paintings” tried to do.

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For the conference program click here.

To register for the conference, please click here.

Join us for this conference at the King Juan Carlos Center at New York University, 53 Washington Square South. Click here for a Google map. The closest subway is the West 4th station where the A, B, C, D, E, F trains stop. For more information, please contact lmr273 [@] nyu [.] edu.

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Sponsorship for the conference has been generously provided by the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty, Arts, Humanities and Diversity, the Caribbean Initiative of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, the Department of History, the Reed Foundation, and the Department of Art History.

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