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If you want to claim a territory, it’s good to have a map to show what’s yours. Defining Lines: Cartography in the Age of Empire at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University examines how maps were a form of political control and public perception by Western colonial powers from the 16th and 20th centuries.
As noted in the exhibition text on the accompanying website, “maps were rarely, if ever, simple tools used for getting from place to place.” Instead, they were often about cutting up the world, sometimes places not even seen by the cartographers, into claims. The exhibition focuses on maps of Africa, India, and South America, all curated by undergraduates in the BorderWork(s) Humanities Lab at Duke’s Franklin Humanities Institute. It was created as something of a historical response to Lines of Control: Partition as a Productive Space, which features artists from South Asia responding to different contemporary manifestations of borders.
Borders anywhere are all about control, but it’s especially interesting to look at borders that were often nothing more than dashed lines on a piece of paper. Sometimes these colonial expansion maps were also aimed at instilling a sense of possession in citizen’s heads back home, such John Lodge’s “new” map of Africa (which didn’t have much new information on it at all). The map was cheaply and widely mass-produced so that every British citizen could have the idea of Africa as visual ownership in their heads, filling a void of an idea with a consciousness of vast space. And space-filling was often key, even if they didn’t quite know what was there. Rather than leave a map blank, there was often a bit of geographical guessing, a more modern version of the “here be dragons” warning of the unknown.
In one infamous incident, a whole mountain range called the Mountains of Kong supposedly found in West Africa in 1797 by explorer Mungo Park never existed at all, yet reappeared on maps through the 19th century. Part of the problem was that the maps were never the work of one cartographer, but rather a compilation of ideas and reports back (curiously, the colonists rarely used information from locals who’d lived in the territories for generations, although there were exceptions). Other times, the land was a mystery as a competing colonizer used the suppression of information as a way to keep control.
Throughout the selected materials, all beautiful maps curated by the undergraduates from Duke University’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, there’s this idea that an idea of a place is as essential as the place itself in this relationship between empires and their maps. Even now, maps are still a tension of space — see China’s recent map war with putting the disputed Spratly Islands on their new passports, never mind that they’re one of six countries that have a claim on the archipelago — as an empire is nothing without its managed territory.
Defining Lines: Cartography in the Age of Empire is at the Nasher Museum of Art (Duke University, Durham, North Carolina) through December 15.
“Black infants in America are now more than twice as likely to die as white infants—11.3 per 1,000 black babies, compared with 4.9 per 1,000 white babies, according to the most recent government data—a racial disparity that is actually wider than in 1850, 15 years before the end of slavery, when most black women were…
he ownership of images has a long and nuanced legal history, which has evolved dramatically in recent years as cultural standards and photographic technologies have rapidly advanced
The show, which honors the 50th anniversary of an exhibition history once ignored, continues a series of projects documenting Wilmington’s contemporary art scene.
Renty and his daughter Delia. Renty was an enslaved African, kidnapped from the Congo, sold and forced into slave labor on the South Carolina plantation of B.F. Taylor
What is the relation between possessing a person, possessing their image, and dispossessing their progeny
As a scholar of African American history and photography whose work has focused on the status of violent images in museums and archives, I fully support the validity of Ms. Tamara Lanier’s claim and the amicus brief.
Two K-12 art teachers will each receive a $1,000 cash gift and an additional $500 to put toward classroom art supplies. Nominations are due October 31.
The daguerreotypes of Renty Taylor, Delia, Drana, Alfred, Jack, George Fassena, and Jem remained in an unused storage cabinet until 1975, when it was discovered by an employee of the Peabody Museum.
I am writing in support of the amicus curiae brief submitted by Professor Ariella Aïsha Azoulay of Brown University for the full restitution of the daguerreotypes of Renty Taylor and his daughter Delia, currently held by Harvard University, to their familial descendant, Tamara Lanier.
We cannot be indifferent to the long-lasting effects of photography. The photographs at the center of Lanier v. Harvard are relentless in making Renty and Delia Taylor work and perform as slaves. The pain inflicted on them has not ceased. Photography has the capacity to propagate harm, and we have the moral obligation to interrupt…