TRANSCRIPT: Ep. 223 Representing the Black Experience in Art


Speaker 1:
It’s the Inspiration Place podcast with artist Miriam Schulman. Welcome to the Inspiration Place podcast, an art world inside a podcast for artists, by an artist, where each week we go behind the scenes to uncover the perspiration and inspiration behind the art. And now your host, Miriam Schulman.

Miriam Schulman:
Well, hey there my friend. It’s Miriam Schulman here, your curator of inspiration. And I’m bringing you a roundup from the Artrepreneur flash briefings for the week. So this week’s podcast is inspired by the day I spent at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I visited some amazing shows. I hope that you too, will get a chance to visit them. But if you don’t, you can vicariously enjoy them through today’s podcast.
The shows I visited were Hear Me Now, Why Born Enslaved!, Afrofuturism. And then I also reminisce about the Winslow Homer show that I saw, but it is closed. So I will be talking about that as well. And then also about the poet that I met on my way out of the museum. So for all that, stay tuned.

Since the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent global social justice movements that followed, museums are doubling down on correcting the disparity of representation, whether that is of the black experience, as well as other marginalized groups, artists of color, they’re also working to fix the disparity of women in their exhibits.

So these are all great things. So that is why you’re going to hear a lot about these types of exhibits, because right now there is a correction going on where a lot of museums are working hard to kind of reset the balance. In addition to including more artists of color and women, which I’ve discussed frequently on the Inspiration Place podcast, they’re also changing the narratives.

They’re also changing the way they discuss non-Western art and even Western art that depicts people from non-Western countries, and they’re just changing the way the conversations around it. So this week I did finally get a chance to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in order to see the, See Me Now exhibit that we chatted about a few weeks back.

By the way, if you did miss that one, this exhibit features the pottery of enslaved artisans in South Carolina. And you can hear more about that in episode number 219. So if you have time to search for that on your podcast app, or you can just go to my website, Now what really impressed me in person about this exhibit is the scale of these pots.

They’re enormous. So if you like Restoration Hardware, which now calls itself RH, if you like the very large scale contemporary things you see there, and they have planters on the RH site that are huge. I think actually the ones in this exhibit are larger, and that’s incredible considering that these slaves who created it, they would have to lift this.

Now the one who created these enormous pots, his name was Dave. And after he was emancipated, he took the last name Drake, so Dave Drake. They shared that this slave actually had lost a leg later in life. So moving these very large bowls and vessels were something that was physical, that was hard to even imagine.

Now they did allude that this leg seems to have been lost under mysterious circumstances. So he was enslaved as a potter, not as a farmer or working with machines. And since he continued to write, inscribing poetry on his pots, reading and writing, which was banned for slaves in the deep South, it’s possible that his leg was removed forcibly for running a foul of what was considered criminal during this time.
Now the curators also showed the pottery not just of this era of these slaves, but they also showed modern parts by mid-century black artists, and they also showed examples of art from indigenous people in Africa.

So it’s very interesting to see the influences from both the past and the future of these enslaved artists, how the whole spectrum of the history, everything kind of influences each other. One pot I particularly liked was the cobalt blue glazed pot. So imagine a vase that’s glazed, it’s almost like a turquoise cobalt blue, but then it has nose and lips with very, very ethnic proportion.

So I really liked that one. I also really liked the face vessels. These reminded me of one of my clients. So Inge van den Hoven creates very interesting anthropomorphic pottery. And it also reminded me of the pots that you might see done by Jonathan Adler, where he creates planters and vases that have faces on them.

So you can see the influence on other artists. One thing that was very interesting in the narratives that the curators did is really created a conversation around this. And the exhibit really forces us to ask, what is art when it’s the product of coercion?

So you would think that artistry’s antithetical to enslavement, but when you actually look at the objects in this exhibit, you can see that the artist actually had a lot of agency over their art, especially in the case of Dave the Potter. Dave the Potter, who later took the name Dave Drake after emancipation.

There’s definitely a boldness in his writing on the pottery. Because as an artist, he’s basically committing, as I said before, a crime because he’s going against what was the law and he’s doing it in his artwork. I think that making an incredible statement. Now I have a handy museum hack for you.

If you are visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art and you go through the main entrance in the front lobby, there are lines sneaking around the lobby like Disney World. And that’s because most people don’t know about the other entrance. Now I did write a blog post many years back.

You can go check that out at, met as an M-E-T, and you can learn about my secret entrance to the museum. And thank me next time you’re in New York City because there are absolutely no lines down there, and it’s conveniently located next to the bathrooms.

So on my visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I went to a new exhibit in the Period Rooms. They created a brand new exhibit, it’s called Afrofuturism. And it was there that I learned about the history of Seneca Village, which I really didn’t know too much about.

Seneca Village was a vibrant 19th century community of predominantly black landowners and tenants. And it flourished in this area just West of the MET, which is now Central Park. By the 1950s, this village comprised of about 50 homes, three churches, multiple cemeteries, a school and many gardens.

It was an escape from the crowded and dangerous confines of lower Manhattan and a site of opportunity, ownership, freedom and prosperity. However, in 1857 to make way for the park, the city used eminent domain, another word for manifest destiny or white supremacy, they used eminent domain to see Seneca Village land displacing its residents and leaving only the barest traces of the community behind.
And although I’m not talking about it today, New York has also displaced the Lenape Native Americans. I don’t have research about that today, but this is the first time I had learned about the Seneca Village when I was visiting this Afrofuturism Period Room. So when you visit the Metropolitan Museum, know that there’s this dark history behind it.

I’m not going to love the Metropolitan any less. I love it so much, but it does make me sad to know that these people were forcibly removed from their homes in order to make way for it. So this exhibit that I saw was a way to bring awareness to this. And the title is Before Yesterday We Could Fly. And what they try to do is imagine.

So Afrofuturism is imagining, well, what could’ve been and what would’ve been with the arts that were happening in Seneca Village and moving it into the present day. So one thing you can search on is hashtag MET Afrofuturist. You can look for that hashtag on Instagram and you can see objects in the collection.

By the way, if you’re enjoying this content, which is from my Artrepreneur flash briefings, why don’t you leave me a review over on Amazon? Now you can’t leave a review for my book, Artrepreneur because it’s not out yet, and Amazon does not let you leave reviews for books that aren’t out yet.

But you can leave a review on Amazon for the Artrepreneur flash briefings. Here’s what you do. Go to Amazon and search for Artrepreneur. And then on the left tab, so right away you’ll see my book. But what I want you to do is change the search tab to skill. So when you search for Artrepreneur under skills, it will come up. Click on Artrepreneur under skills, and then you’ll see that you can enable the skill on your device.
And then what I want you to do is please leave me a five-star review and a nice little comment. And guess what? As a special thank you gift, you’ll receive a copy of my guide, Unlocking Your Style, which is regularly $48, but I’ll give it to you absolutely free. So how do you get it? Just take a screenshot of your Amazon review as you’re leaving it for the Alexa Skill Artrepreneur and send it to us.

You can send it to the email, and we will send you that Unlocking Your Style ebook absolutely free. Thank you so much for being part of my world. When I was visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I came across an exhibit called Why Born enslaved!, Fictions of Emancipation: Carpeaux Recast.

It’s the first exhibition at the MET to reexamine Western sculpture in relation to the histories of trans atlantic slavery, colonialism and empire. The exhibit is organized around this marble bust by French sculptor Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux. So he’s a 19th century sculptor. One point I read that he was the most famous in France, but I’m pretty sure [inaudible] was sculpting at the same time.

That aside, let’s just focus on Carpeaux. He created this bust after American emancipation and some 20 years after slavery was abolished by the French Atlantic. It’s basically popularizing the anti-slavery imagery, but yet at the same time using a slave to do that. So there’s a little bit of a conflict here. So when I first came across this exhibit, I wasn’t sure what to make of it.

I wasn’t sure if I’m supposed to be enjoying these images, if I should be outraged by these images. And I have to tell you, I went to it. Then I went to visit the pots, then I came back and I looked at it again. Then I went to the Afrofuture room. Then I came back again.
And the third visit that I came back, I began to relax because what I did was I looked around and I was looking at the other people who were enjoying the sculpture. And I was looking at how much all the black people who were there were enjoying the sculpture because it is so unusual to see examples of African people done by Western artists in this really highlighting their true beauty, not trying to make African people look more white, which you actually see now all the time.

If you pick up a Sundance catalog, yeah, they have people of color in it, but they pick the fairest skinned people possible. So people who have more of a biracial look to them. So the women and the men in this exhibit, they had true African ethno features. And they were beautiful, they were absolutely beautiful, but they were depicted as slaves.

So there was still a little bit of that kind of niggly feeling for me. In addition to Carpeaux bust, which is really beautiful. The woman, she has a twisted motion, she has kinky hair, she has a wide nose, full lips, they show her breasts, there’s a rope around her [inaudible]. So it’s a very erotic image. It’s definitely a black woman.

It definitely shows her as a slave. They’re not sure of the identity of the person who posed for her, but they do suspect who it was. So I did see that information shared. But in addition to that sculpture, there are other sculptures in this exhibit, and some of them I think were even more beautiful than that one.

One thing that was very interesting is Kara Walker, who is a contemporary black artist, she actually had did a reverse molding of this image. So that was a very interesting object that they had in there. There was also a bust done by Kehinde Wiley. So that name, if it’s not familiar to you, he did the Obama portrait that’s in the Smithsonian. But he did actually a marble bust.

And what he did was he did an African American man, but posed in the same way as this woman, that twisted motion. So you know that it referenced the Carpeaux sculpture. But then he put a Nike logo on a tank top on this figure. So I’m assuming he’s trying to say that there’s some sort of enslavement to being an entertainer as a black person in the world.

I’m not really completely sure what he’s trying to say, but he’s definitely trying to say something. And it was beautiful. One of my favorite pieces though, was a sculpture that had black and white marble. It doesn’t say what the materials were, but the head and shoulders were done in some sort of black material.

And then there was white marble used on the drapes with what it’s called, the toga of this slave person. And then the earrings were gold. It was just so absolutely stunning. It was an absolutely beautiful piece of art. Like I said, I do have mixed feelings about these pieces. They are all beautiful pieces of art.

I do think that the French artist was grasping a little bit with their identity, they had the revolution going on, they had abolition going on. But it’s still an example of male virality, which I think that’s also maybe why I find it troubling. So it’s still eroticizing a woman in bondage.
And at the end of the day, I still have a little trouble with that. Yeah. So we’re representing a figure, but it’s still linked to the idea of slavery and the link to the idea of being chained. So it’s still perpetuating the same images and the still idea of blackness as being slavery, and that’s what it meant for the society.

So that’s why I’m a little bit torn. I don’t want to denounce this art. I mean, I think the intent of Carpeaux at that time was an anti-slavery image. But you do have to think about what these images are saying to people. Because at the end of the day, what you’re looking at is a black woman who is being bound by ropes.

All right. So I’m just wondering what you have to say about this. Why don’t you send me a DM over on Instagram. I’m at Schulman Art, S-C-H-U-L-M-A-N A-R-T. Let me know what you think about this. Maybe I’ll actually post an image over there of this. Yeah, actually that’s a good idea. I’m going to post an image.

So look for the images over on Instagram so you can comment below. And I just want to remind you, part of my mission on this podcast is to give voice to women, women of color, people of marginalized groups, but also let them tell their own stories and narratives.
And if you’re interested in learning more about that topic, you definitely would enjoy the two podcasts I did with Erica Courdae. So the two that I did with her is 104, How to Be A anti-Racist Artist, and 117, Poverty Mindset. So they were both recorded in 2020,,

All right, Winslow Homer at age 26 was a professional artist reporter. His drawings were often reproduced in the Illustrated Press. He aspired, however, to be a painter. Now Sharp Shooter was his first oil painting completed in 1863, and that was in the public eye with an engraving of a soldier in Harper’s Weekly.

So I went to this exhibit, Winslow Homer: Crosscurrents with two artist incubator mastermind members, wildlife artist, Priya Gore, who was traveling from Australia, and [inaudible], a Judaic artist who lives in New York. Some of the paintings we loved, some of the paintings not so much. We were pretty critical. And one painting though, that all three of us could agree on that we all loved was Cotton Pickers. So again, we have a depiction of two African slaves picking cotton. I do think that Winslow Homer was very sympathetic to the black experience. You can see that in all of his paintings, that he definitely did not romanticize slavery. He captured the emotional experience of the people. You could see the hurt, you can see the anger on these two women’s faces. So I felt that portrait was very modern, very prescient. It’s also a gorgeous painting though, the sky is filled with a pink sunset, all fluffy clouds, you have the fluffy cotton field. And the two women are shown very close up and it’s really a portrait of them. Other artworks that stood out in this exhibit definitely also show the violence of nature and the violence of nature.

And I wonder if that was muse more as a metaphor, because oftentimes he would depict the black man on a ship with a shark circling it. Yeah, I wonder what he intended with that. Now as a war painter, Homer was uncomfortable with battle scenes. He painted only one, but he didn’t really paint in the way other war painters would paint. So he mostly showed us the weary, homesick men in the camp. And that’s also I think why he chose to depict, okay, so what does it mean now for the people who were enslaved who were about to be emancipated? That is a lot of his focus.

The other thing that I thought very interesting about Winslow Homer is that I felt his watercolors were way better in technique than his oil paintings. And he also agreed with that. There was one part of the exhibit the curators wanted to let you know that Homer himself suspected that the watercolors were his greater legacy. All right, my friend. So if you want to create watercolor figures like Winslow Homer, guess what? I have a class on that. But I also have some great news from you, you don’t have to take the class because I have something for you absolutely free. I put together a list of supplies plus the five steps you need to take to create portraits.

This is a brand new free ebook. You can get that by heading over to Well, the day I visited the Metropolitan, and as I was leaving through the front of the museum, I came across a young cross-legged poet. He was sitting right on the sidewalk, right next to the steps, right next to the steps leading up to the entrance of the museum.

He was sitting cross-legged with a typewriter in front of him and a little sign that said, “Poems for sale, $2.” So let me tell you, I walked past him. Then I circled back. I was like, “You know what? I would like a poem.” He looked up at me, he sees this 50 something year old woman staring down at him kindly [inaudible] says, “I would like a poem.”

And he says, “All right. Well, tell me a little bit about yourself.” I was like, “Okay. Well, I’m an artist and I visited the museum. And what I do is I teach artists like you to ask more money for their art. So I could promise you, you should be asking more than $2.” And while I was there, I also bought his book for 20.

So he actually made $22. I’m going to make a whole second podcast because I feel like this deserves its own topic on how to make money from your poetry or how to get paid to write poetry. But for today’s episode, I just want to share with you the poem that this young poet wrote with me. And we’ll save the, how to make money as a poet for another episode.

All right. Here is the poet. You can find him on Instagram at J.D.B. His book is 9/10 Daydreaming. It is beautiful. It’s black cover with a beautiful white line drawing on it. There’s also line drawings throughout the book. I’m looking to see if he illustrated them too. And it says it’s dedicated to the daydreamers all the way lost, all the way found, or anywhere in between.

And here is the poem that I paid $2 for, “Dear, Miriam. Dear, I bet you woke up this morning and stepped your way to the bathroom, and the mirror smiled back. Dear, how many times have you been lost in the museum? I just want to say that a few hours before you stepped in front of me, the sun fell behind the MET.

And now with you standing here, eyes peering down, a little half smile on your lips, it’s bright again. A little bit warm. And don’t you hear the saxophone singing and doesn’t the street smell a little like sweet cream? J.D.B.” All right, my friend. So if you’re looking for a step by step guide to transforming your creativity and passion into a profitable business, whether you’re a poet, musician, photographer, painter, dancer, singer, sculptor, or other creative, well, good news, my new book, Artrepreneur is finally ready to pre-order.

And even though you won’t get your hands on it till January, it does come with a bundle of bonuses that you’re not going to want to miss. And you can check them out over at All right. Well, that’s it until next time. You can find the links of everything we talked about all week long over at Until then, stay inspired.

Speaker 1:
Thank you for listening to the Inspiration Place podcast. Connect with us on Facebook at, on Instagram @schulmanart, and of course on


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