Roland Ayers, Emancipated Hero

Oil pastel and ink on paper
Credit Line
Museum purchase with funds generously provided by Robert and Frances Kohler, 2021
10 x 7 in.

Ayers made this work in 1963, the one hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863. The artist’s emancipated hero, elegantly attired in a suit and tie, emerges from a lineage that includes a Black woman, two ghost-like white men, and a Black man who gently holds a sheet of paper to his chest. Perhaps this paper represents the Emancipation Proclamation itself in the hands of a man who attained liberty through the words printed on it. The hero appears to be seated on the back of a figure who may be an African ancestor. The mysterious image can be thought of as Ayers’s attempt to visualize the ancestry not only of the generation of Black Americans who experienced emancipation, but also by Black Americans more broadly.

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Roland Ayers