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By Celeste-Marie Bernier

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Thompson’s research goes even further by tracing call and response patterns of exchange within a Diasporic African Atlantic tradition. In particular, he shows how the ‘rise, development, and achievement of Yoruba, Kongo, Fon, Mande, and Ejagham art and philosophy fused with new elements overseas, shaping and defining the black Atlantic visual tradition’ (Thompson, 1984: xiv). In light of their experimental features, recurrent themes and hidden meanings, enslaved and free African artists have had a far-reaching impact on the African American arts tradition which has developed in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Although Smalls is right to suggest that early black artists were ‘restricted’ and plagued by ‘self-doubt’, his interpretation risks detracting 24 african american visual arts attention from the all too frequently overlooked formal features of their works. Far too little attention has been paid to the ways in which African American artists often played with patron and even audience expectations to subvert, resist and signify upon the difficulties presented by racist contexts and conditions of enslavement.

256). Could they, therefore, also have been intended as a warning to slaveholders? By associating the suffering of slaves with the crucifixion of Christ on the ‘cross’, might Dave have been taunting his white audiences with their sins? He may have been unafraid of whites seeing his poetry – particularly given their highly visible placement at the top of these jars – as he asked them to ‘repent’. ‘I made this Jar all of cross’ not only highlights his artistic agency but the connotations of ‘cross’ align African Americans with Christian martyrdom.

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