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Unnamed Figures: Black Presence and Absence in the Early American North

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Unnamed Figures: Black Presence and Absence in the Early American North will be on view at Historic Deerfield’s Flynt Center from May 1 to August 4, 2024.

As a corrective to histories that define slavery and anti-Black racism as a largely Southern issue, this exhibition offers a new window onto Black representation in a region that is often overlooked in narratives of early African American history.

Through 97 remarkable works including paintings, needlework, and photographs, this exhibition invites visitors to focus on figures who appear in—or are omitted from—early American images and will challenge conventional narratives that have minimized early Black histories in the North, revealing the complexities and contradictions of the region’s history between the late 1600s and early 1800s.

Despite their vital importance, the experiences and contributions of Black figures in the Northeast have often been ignored or minimized. While the exhibition features a rich collection of artwork, it also delves deeper by considering what’s missing. Historical records show Black people lived and worked in the North during this period. Yet, many images from that time exclude them. By including works without Black figures, the exhibit prompts us to think about how these omissions continue to affect our understanding of history.

The exhibition comes to Historic Deerfield by way of the American Folk Art Museum in New York City, where it was first exhibited from November 15, 2023 to March 24, 2024.

A 300-page scholarly book with contributions from Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, Jennifer Van Horn, and several authors, is available for purchase in our Museum Store.

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