PaperCity Magazine


Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 89 of 99

In the beguiling No be ganado mi libertad sobre las espaldas, a young woman is draped in shimmering white fabric, her chocolate décolletage bare. She looks away from the camera, a meringue of cloth atop her head. The Spanish phrase in the title was reported to have been made in defiance by a free woman of color in an 18th-century New Orleans courtroom; it translates to "I did not earn my freedom on my back." The Tignon edict, meant to make mixed women less desirable, insulted Creole women who were already a part of Louisiana's racially diverse community. Antoinette based the photograph on Portrait d'une Négresse, painted in 1800 by Marie-Guillemine Benoist, an aristocratic French artist and protégé of Jacques-Louis David and Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, court painter to Marie Antoinette. The painting, one of the few during that time to depict free Black people, was purchased by Louis XVIII and hangs in the Louvre. C hesley Antoinette's fascination with turbans started in 2007 during a year in Lille, France, as a part of Stephen F. Austin's study-abroad program. "I saw all sorts of women, both French and African, accessorizing with their scarves in a way I hadn't seen growing up in Austin," she says. "I loved the versatility — they wore them around their heads, their necks, and sometimes scarves became a blanket or a bag." She began collecting scarves from open-air markets around France and experimented with them. "I began wrapping them around my head in different ways; like hairstyles, the way I do it changes. I never go out of the house without one." After college, she focused her MFA at the University of North Texas in Denton on fiber art and sculpture. There, she explored a wide range of materials including plastics and metals, which she fabricated into wearable art. In 2017, Antoinette discovered the Tignon Laws while researching the history of turbans in North America. "That's when everything started to take off. It was so fascinating," she says. A grant from the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs allowed her to teach workshops on Tignon Laws at public libraries and cultural centers in Dallas. She combined the classes with head-wrapping sessions "to show the characteristics that were meant to oppress, including mobility and beauty." A year later, she put a team together to produce her "Tignon" series. The work fuses stories of real Creole women in the Deep South with historic paintings of free Black women in Europe. "I wanted to talk about how Black women in society had a heavy role in shaping those cultures, just as Creole women and Black slaves heavily shaped culture in Louisiana," she says. Antoinette, who teaches art appreciation at Mountain View and Tarrant County community colleges, says a lot of what she does is teach students to see. "We don't see with our eyes; we see with our brains," she says. "Eyes just filter an image, and whatever preconceptions or influences we have then transform into what we see." Her photography is a visual feast that provokes discussion. "It opens the door to talk about so many things — whether their sexual relationships were voluntary or forced, how they survived in a complex world, and even what it means to survive." Much of what women of color dealt with centuries ago is still relevant today. "We are living during a very complicated time in history, where you have the interracial mixing of people and how they are communicating and reacting to it all. My work is part of that conversation." Chesley Antoinette's Louison Chastang, 2018 The artist's New Orleans, 2018 Chesley Antoinette Kristina smith (Continued from page 86)

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of PaperCity Magazine - PaperCity_Houston_December_2020