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(Ohio or Rensselaer, NY, 7/4/1844 - 9/17/1907, London, United Kingdom)
Unidentified Female Bust
22 x 19 x 11 in. (55.88 x 48.26 x 27.94 cm)
North America, United States
Medium and Support
Gift of Elizabeth C. Roak and Robert H. Roak
Born in New York to a Haitian father and mother of Ojibwe descent, Edmonia Lewis was a distinguished sculptor in the United States and Italy. Forced to withdraw from Oberlin College after racially motivated accusations of poisoning her roommates and subsequent assaults, Lewis ultimately settled in Boston in 1864. There a group of abolitionist leaders supported her efforts to become a sculptor. Lewis is known for her commissioned sculptures, such as the one featured here, but also for work that dealt with her Native American heritage and the oppression of Black people. Many of the sculptures she produced that represent Native American and Black people take on European physiognomy, akin to those featured in this sculpture of an unidentified woman. Art historian Charmaine Nelson has suggested that by sculpting figures of European origin or with European features, Lewis distanced herself from her artwork, ensuring that no one would interpret her works as reflective of her own identity and experience.