Behind the Myth of Benevolence, 2014

oil on canvas • 59 x 34 x 7 inches
About the Work

This painting is inspired by an iconic portrait of Thomas Jefferson that has been “peeled” away from the canvas to reveal a portrait of an enslaved black woman. She peers from behind the folded canvas; a bright green headscarf with gold band and golden pitcher are the most striking objects in an otherwise shadowed and moon lit room. While this woman is suggestive of Sally Mae Hemmings, the black woman who was enslaved in Thomas Jefferson’s household and gave birth to his children, it is not exactly her. Because she was the enslaved woman of an important individual, historical records still exist to tell us more about her than we would otherwise know of the untold number of black women who were placed in this same, tragic position. Although no images of her remain, research tells us that she was a very light skinned woman. This portrait is at once about Sally Mae Hemmings and Thomas Jefferson, as well as the many women whose liberty was taken from them, and whose tragic “relationships” have been shrouded by historically inaccurate narratives of deified men in positions of power.