Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Role of Race in Edmonia Lewis's Death of Cleopatra

This post is an updated and expanded form of an essay that I wrote in my college Women in Art class! I am excited to share some expanded and edited versions of my essays here (since I did spend plenty of time working on them, and I'd hate for them to rot away in my hard drive forever!)

Mary Edmonia Lewis, known more commonly as Edmonia Lewis, was the first professional sculptor of African and Native American descent in America. She created Neoclassical sculptures deeply embedded with racial themes and symbols. Lewis's most celebrated work is her Death of Cleopatra (shown below). This sculpture was displayed as a part of the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, where Lewis was one of a handful of women showcasing their work. Of these few women, Lewis was the only one who was not white, making her a paramount that paved the way for women artists of color in the art world. The strong, ethnically-aware subject matter of Death of Cleopatra makes its inclusion in the exposition even more profound.