Mia L. Bagneris

Doctoral Candidate in the Department of African and African American Studies, Harvard University

Biography

2007-2008: Sheila Biddle Ford Foundation Fellow

Local Colors: Interracial Sexuality and the Mixed-Race Body in the Caribbean Canvases of Agostino Brunias

Project Description

Local Colors: Interracial Sexuality and the Mixed-Race Body in the Caribbean Canvases of Agostino Brunias

This dissertation explores interracial themes in the work of Agostino Brunias, a little known but fascinating Italian artist who painted for British patrons in the late-eighteenth-century colonial Caribbean. Brunias came to the Caribbean around 1770 in the employ of Sir William Young, a British aristocrat who had recently been appointed governor of the West Indian islands ceded to Britain from France at the conclusion of the Seven Years War. For the next twenty-five years the prolific artist created romanticized images of communities of color including native Caribs, enslaved Africans, and free mulattoes that obscured the horrors of colonial domination and plantation slavery. Instead of slave markets or sugar plantations, Brunias’s canvases offered picturesque market scenes, lively dances, and outdoor fantasies tinged with rococo naughtiness that selectively recorded the life of the colonized for the eye of the colonizer. Local Colors explores Brunias’s use of interracial sexuality, mixed-race bodies, and racial ambiguity in creating this selective visual record, aiming to discover why the bodies of mixed-race women in particular made such perfect canvases for mapping out the colonial desires of British patriarchs. The project also explores how Brunias’s work might be understood as simultaneously participating in and subtly, but significantly, troubling the solidification of racial classification of the eighteenth-century.

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