Welcome to Digital Aponte, a site dedicated to the life and work of José Antonio Aponte, a free man of color, carpenter, artist, and alleged leader of a massive antislavery conspiracy and rebellion in colonial Cuba in 1811-1812. Aponte was the creator of an unusual work of art—a “book of paintings” full of historical and mythical figures, including black kings, emperors, priests, and soldiers, that he showed to and discussed with fellow conspirators. Aponte’s vision of a black history connected a diasporic and transatlantic past to the possibility of imagining a sovereign future for free and enslaved people of color in colonial Cuba. Although the “book of paintings” is believed to be lost, colonial Spanish officials interrogated Aponte about its contents after arresting him for organizing the rebellions, and Aponte’s sometimes elaborate, always elusive, descriptions of the book’s pages survive in the textual archival record.
In this website, you can read an annotated version of the trial record of Aponte’s descriptions of the “book of paintings.” You can also learn more about the visual and textual references that inspired Aponte. Explore a simulation of Aponte’s library, found in his workshop, and read more about the texts that he owned. Or, visit the image gallery to investigate the visual culture of turn of the nineteenth-century Havana and the types of visual art, architecture, and printed matter that Aponte may have seen.
We are happy to share news of an exhibit in which more than a dozen contemporary artists reimagine portions of Aponte’s “book of paintings.” Visionary Aponte: Black Art and Freedom opened at the Little Haiti Cultural Center in Miami during Art Basel 2017. The exhibit will be on display at the Power Plant Gallery at Duke University beginning September 19, 2018.