Colouring the Caribbean

Race and the art of Agostino Brunias

Author: Mia L. Bagneris

Agostino Brunias's paintings have often been understood as straightforward documents of visual ethnography that functioned as field guides for reading race. This book offers the first comprehensive study of Agostino Brunias's intriguing pictures of colonial West Indians of colour made for colonial officials and plantocratic elites during the late-eighteenth century. It talks about the so called 'Red' and 'Black' Caribs, dark-skinned Africans and Afro-Creoles, and mixed-race women and men. The book explores the role of the artist's paintings in reifying notions of race in the British colonial Caribbean and considers how the images both reflected and refracted common ideas about race. Although some historians argue that the conclusion of the First Carib War actually amounted to a stalemate, Brunias clearly documents it as a moment of surrender, with Joseph Chatoyer considering the terms of his people's submission. Young's Account of the Black Charaibs mobilised subtle and not-so-subtle allusions to the rebellion in Haiti to construct a narrative of the Carib Wars. The book analyses the imaging of Africans and Afro-Creoles in British colonial art. The painting named Mulatresses and Negro Woman Bathing, Brunias replaces his more quotidian trade scenes and negro dancing frolics with a bathing tableau set against a sylvan Eden. In Linen Market, Dominica, one arresting figure captivates the viewer more than any other. Brunias may have painted for the plantocractic class, constructing pretty pictures of Caribbean life that reflected the vision of the islands upon which white, colonialist identities depended.

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‘Bagneris’s study of Brunias is energetic and stimulating
New West Indian Guide
January 2020

‘Bagneris’s purpose … is to complicate the univocal reading of these images and to interpret them as pro-slavery statements … the paintings manifest all the complexity and ambivalence of the system of racial classification of late-eighteenth-century British colonialism.
Perspective
January 2020

‘Bagneris’ text expands our understanding of Brunias’ paintings and is a praiseworthy publication on the relationship between visual culture and imperial expansion. […] Colouring the Caribbean will not only stand as the definitive text on Brunias, but will also serve as a model for future scholarship on race and representation in the colonial world. ’
Association for Art History
June 2020

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