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Jose Torres Tama

"New Orleans Free People of Color & Their Legacy" Contemporary Portraits on Paper of 18th & 19th Century Historical Figures

This visual history project of portraits on paper celebrates the legacy of New Orleans' "free people of color" and their cultural, political, and artistic contributions in the 18th and 19th Century. "Les gens de couleur libre" are considered the first multiracial people in the United States, borne of a mixing between the African, French, Spanish, and native races of Louisiana.

They were a hybrid caste considered a third race between the French and Spanish Colonial slave masters and the slaves, and by the time of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, their numbers had grown greatly in the city. These portraits are meant to shed new light on particular individuals who were prominent figures of their times, and who played major roles in the early struggle for justice and equality for all people of color in the city of New Orleans.

These portraits are inspired by archival photographs of "free people of color" found in books such as Sybil Kein's "Creole" and Keith Weldon Medley's "We as Free Men." The drawings are executed in pastels with a colorful and expressionistic style where abstract and figurative concerns converge in a distinct pictorial vocabulary intrinsic to Latin American art styles. Torres Tama began developing this series in 2002 through the Ogden's "Artists and Sense of Place" residency program, and this exhibit is the culmination of a project born through the museum's educational community outreach and the artist's five-year research on "the free people of color."

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