Newswise — “Visionary Aponte: Art and Black Freedom,” Feb. 23 through May 4 at NYU’s King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center (KJCC), centers on the life and art of José Antonio Aponte, a free black carpenter, artist, and soldier in early 19th-century Havana. 

The exhibition recreates Aponte’s works, which were confiscated after his arrest and execution for leading a slave rebellion in Cuba, by bringing together over a dozen contemporary artists working across a range of media to interpret an extraordinary—and now lost—historical artifact: Aponte’s so-called “Book of Paintings.”

Authorities found the “Book of Paintings” in 1812 during their investigation into a major anti-slavery conspiracy in Havana. Its pages portrayed lush landscapes and Biblical stories; Roman goddesses and Spanish kings; black men as warriors, emperors, and librarians; Rome and Ethiopia; Havana and the heavens. Shortly after Aponte’s execution, his “Book of Paintings” disappeared.

Using Aponte’s trial testimony—which is all that is known to remain of the “Book of Paintings”— the artists of “Visionary Aponte” have reimagined Aponte’s book for our present. They experiment with ways to mitigate the violence of the colonial archive and invite us to think about the role of art in envisioning and making social change.

The artists include: José Bedia (Miami), Leonardo Benzant (New York), Juan Roberto Diago (Havana), Édouard Duval-Carrié (Miami), Alexis Esquivel (Havana), Teresita Fernández (New York), Emilio Martínez (Miami), Nina Angela Mercer (New York), Clara Morera (North Carolina), Glexis Novoa (Miami), Vicki Pierre (Miami), Marielle Plaisir (Miami), Asser Saint-Val (Miami), JeanMarcel Saint-Jacques (New Orleans), and Renée Stout (Washington, D.C.).

The exhibition also incorporates—and the art engages—scholarly research on Aponte and his world by NYU Professor Ada Ferrer, author of the prize-winning book Freedom’s Mirror: Cuba and Haiti in the Age of Revolution, and art historian Linda Rodríguez, curator of the digital humanities website Digital Aponte.

“Visionary Aponte” is made possible with the support of the NYU Provost’s Global Research Initiative; NYU’s Visual Initiatives Program, the King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center, NYU’s Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, the Knight Foundation, the Green Family Foundation, and the Haitian Cultural Arts Alliance. 

Images available upon request.

The King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center is located at 53 Washington Square South (between Sullivan and Thompson Streets).

Hours: Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; special Saturday openings: noon-5 p.m. on February 24, March 31, and April 28

Subways: R, W (8th Street); 6 (Astor Place); A, B, C, D, E, F, M (West 4th Street).

For more information, call 212.998.3650 or visit

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