Visionary Aponte: Art and Black Freedom
takes as its point of departure an extraordinary—and now lost—historical artifact: a so-called “book of paintings.” Its creator was José Antonio Aponte, a free black carpenter, artist, and former soldier who was also the leader of an ambitious antislavery conspiracy in Cuba in 1812. Following his arrest for conspiring to plan these rebellions, Aponte was put on trial and forced to describe each of the “paintings” in his book. Colonial Spanish officials viewed the book with suspicion, and they were especially concerned with how Aponte used it in his organizing. The book’s images portrayed a wide array of subject matter, from Biblical scenes to Greco-Roman gods and goddesses to episodes in the history of Africa, Europe, and the Americas. Throughout the book, Aponte represented powerful images of black men and women in lands near and far, from Havana to Ethiopia. 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.

Using Aponte’s testimony from the trial record, more than a dozen contemporary artists have reimagined Aponte’s book for our present, inviting us to think about the role of art and history in making social change. Among the featured artists are: José Bedia (Miami), Leonardo Benzant (New York), Sanford Biggers (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), Jean-Marcel Saint-Jacques (New Orleans), Renée Stout (Washington, D.C.). A second, smaller part of the exhibition includes a video and panels with historical research on Aponte and his world.

Thank you to the following institutions for their support: New York University Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, New York University Provost’s Global Research Initiatives, Green Family Foundation, Art Basel Miami Beach, Knight Foundation, Little Haiti Cultural Complex, The Haitian Cultural Arts Alliance, Miami-Dade County, New York University King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center, and Duke Forum for Scholars and Publics.

Exhibit Schedule

Little Haiti Cultural Center, Miami, FL
December 8, 2017 – January 20, 2018

King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center, New York University, New York, NY
February 21, 2018 – June 2, 2018

Power Plant Gallery, Duke University, Durham, NC
September 19, 2018 – November 18, 2018

Centro de Desarrollo de las Artes Visuales, Havana, Cuba
September 20, 2019 – October 25, 2019

Galería Oriente, Santiago de Cuba, Cuba
November 5, 2019 – December 1, 2019

Fine Arts Gallery, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN
January 9, 2020 – March 8, 2020


Rafael Rojas, “Visiones de Aponte,” La Razón, May 5, 2018.
Seph Rodney, “The Deathless Aponte and Black Freedom,” Hyperallergic, April 19, 2018.
Monica Uszerowicz, “Reanimating History:Visionary Aponte: Art and Black Freedom,” Bomb, January 15, 2018.
Black Art in America, “Visionary Aponte: Art and Black Freedom at the Haitian Cultural Arts Alliance,” December 12, 2017.
Néstor David Pastor, “These Artists Re-Imagined the Artwork of an Afro-Cuban Revolutionary,” Okay Africa, December 7, 2017.

Photograph courtesy Yolanda Navas.