Natural Histories: Hope Brooks, Slavery Trilogy

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Hope Brooks’ Slavery Trilogy is a combination of three series: (from left to right) Kings and Princes, Backra Pickney and Trilogy. The work explores the history and development of racial identities, imposed and self-chosen, in the context of the African Diaspora. Originally the artist presented the work with extended text labels that provided extensive reference material about the slave trade and the experience of the enslaved as well as the verbal vocabulary that evolved from this context. Of particular interest is a list of ethnic slurs taken from Wikipedia, one for each letter of the alphabet.

The grid installation and repetition of the work with its subtle variations in facial expression and colour spectrum also recall the Casta paintings of colonial Latin America. Casta is the origin of the English word “caste”, the paintings were common in the 17th and 18th centuries, especially in Mexico, where they were used to depict and classify the various racial categories and mixtures. Casta paintings were not merely artistic exploration, they shaped people’s social experience significantly. The racial groupings they depicted had an accompanying set of privileges and restrictions, both legal and customary.

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Anonymous - Las castas (18th century), oil on canvas, 148x104 cm, Museo Nacional del Virreinato, Tepotzotlán, Mexico.

Anonymous – Las castas (18th century), oil on canvas, 148×104 cm, Museo Nacional del Virreinato, Tepotzotlán, Mexico.

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