Image of the Black Archive & Library

Spanning nearly 5,000 years and documenting virtually all forms of media, the Image of the Black Archive & Library is an unprecedented research project devoted to the systematic investigation of how people of African descent have been perceived and represented in art. Started in 1960 by Jean and Dominique de Menil in reaction to the continuing existence of segregation in the United States, the Archive contains photographs of approximately 30,000 works of art, each one of which is extensively documented and categorized by the Archive's staff. For the first thirty years of the project's existence, the project focused on the production of a prize-winning, four-volume series of generously illustrated books, The Image of the Black in Western Art. Since moving to Harvard in 1994, the project is focused on the production of the final volume of The Image of the Black in Western Art and expanding access to the Archive itself (prior to its arrival at Harvard, the Archive was only available to scholars working on the published volumes). The Institute hosts conferences, fellowships for scholars, seminars, and exhibitions on issues raised by the Archive, including the African American Art Conference in 2004.

 

Thumbnail for WBUR: "Were Those Black 'Servants' In Dutch Old Master Paintings Actually Slaves?"

WBUR: "Were Those Black 'Servants' In Dutch Old Master Paintings Actually Slaves?"

“Slavery was technically illegal in the Netherlands at this time, as it was throughout Europe, but the situation was still porous,” explains Sheldon Cheek, assistant director of the Image of the Black Archive & Library at Harvard University’s Hutchins Center. “Often, Africans would be brought into the Netherlands by means of the Dutch slave trade, presented as ‘gifts’ to the wealthy.”

Thumbnail for CNN: 'Blackface': Dutch holiday tradition or racism?

CNN: 'Blackface': Dutch holiday tradition or racism?

You know the story. Every December jolly St. Nicholas visits the children of the land -- accompanied by his servant, Black Peter, a goofy, singing, candy-giving Renaissance-clad figure in blackface, giant red lips and a curly wig.

Featuring Dr. Elmer Kolfin, contributer to the Image of the Black in Western Art, Volume III, Part 1.

Thumbnail for NYT Sunday Book Review: ‘The Image of the Black in Western Art’

NYT Sunday Book Review: ‘The Image of the Black in Western Art’

Dominique de Menil’s monumental archival project of collecting and documenting the “image of the black in Western art” began in the 1960s as an aesthetic form of resistance to anti-black racism at the height of the civil rights movement. But with the publication of the fifth volume, concentrating on the 20th century, it has become a necessary cultural resource documenting the visual construction of blackness over the past 5,000 years.

Thumbnail for The Image of the Belle

The Image of the Belle

The film [Belle] was inspired by a striking portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle with her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, a painting that—quite against custom—depicted no apparent subservience of its black subject to its white. The painting, the artist of which has been lost to history, features in the third volume of The Image of the Black in Western Art, our nearly complete ten book series tracing the ways that people of African descent have been represented in Western art from the ancient world to modern times.

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