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Laura A. Macaluso, PhD

A Portrait of Resistance: Power and Problems in the Image of Cinque of the Amistad Mutiny

A small almost square portrait of a Black man wearing a white toga appeared in early 1840. This man was Cinque, or Sengbe Pieh, the leader of the mutiny on board La Amistad, a slave transport ship intending to carry him and other West Africans to Caribbean Islands for a lifetime of brutality and labor. Instead, due to their resistance, the Amistad Africans went to trial, ending at the U.S. Supreme Court and won their freedom.

This presentation will provide a background to the iconic work of art, introducing participants to the context in which the portrait was painted and timed to help support the U.S. Supreme Court case, heard in March 1840. New analysis of the portrait reveals the ways in which the artist and the people who commissioned the painting purposely left out specific aspects of Cinque’s identity as a Muslim man, and created a portrait which instead spoke directly to the Christian missionaries who used the Amistad Africans to help them further their abolitionist causes.

Despite the problems of the painting, very few American made portraits of a Black man went on to influence art, culture and society on both sides of the Atlantic in both the 19th and 20th centuries the way the Portrait of Cinque did. Come together to see the many public works of art that were created around Cinque and the Amistad Africans, and sharpen your skills in visually analyzing works of art.

See for yourself how art works to shape historic memory.

Laura Macaluso, PhD

Laura A. Macaluso, PhD, (lauramacaluso.com | monumentculture@gmail.comTwitter#womenalsoknowhistory) researches and writes about monuments, museums, and material culture. She has a PhD in the Humanities with a focus on Cultural & Historical Preservation and is the author of A History Lover’s Guide to Alexandria and South Fairfax County.