Kerry James Marshall explains his decision to paint Harriet Tubman alongside her first husband John Tubman.
We think of Harriet Tubman
as a kind of mythic figure
within black history—
as a leader of the underground railroad,
taking slaves from slavery to freedom.
That's what we think about
when we think about Harriet Tubman.
We never think about Harriet Tubman
as a woman who was married to anybody.
Take those two things:
her role in black history
and her identity as a woman.
Those things can both be dealt with;
with the blackness of that figure
representing the larger sort of mythic implication,
and then the naming
of herself and the seeing of her
with a man who was a husband.
That becomes the kind of personal idea of Harriet Tubman.
- Kerry James Marshall: Mastry–
- Short In this painting, a woman painter holds a paint palette in front of a paint-by-numbers portrait. Her skin is as black as the as the solid black background; she stares confidently into our eyes.
- Long This painted portrait depicts a young woman with jet-black skin holding a long, thin paintbrush up to a colorful, messy painter’s palette. She is shown in a three-quarter pose, gazing directly at the viewer. Her face, which is central to the square composition, stands out against a large, white, canvas, almost blending into the pitch-black background to her right. Closer inspection reveals, however, that her skin is subtly rendered, with various shades of contours and highlights. She wears two large hoop earrings, three small hoop earrings, and an oversized, boxy, high-collared jacket made of stiff fabric. Her voluminous hair—black with an ochre sheen—rises in thick coils on top of her head. The canvas to her left shows a partly finished paint-by-number self-portrait; in it, her likeness is broken up into smaller segments with pale-blue outlines and numbers. She has outlined many of the segments and filled them in with colors from her palette: orange, blue, yellow, pink, brown, and a few shades of green. The paint-by-number canvas does not accurately represent the color and pattern of the jacket she wears, which features mustard yellow sleeves and collar and deep blue and maroon and light yellow stripes.