cake mix brand, Aunt Jemima, in the 19th century. Not only is the stereotype on the pancake mix box (though it has changed over time), it was also performed by Black
women in public, as exemplified by Nancy Green who cooked pancakes at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The image was highly popularized by the
film, Gone With the Wind (1939), and it exists in derogatory memorabilia, such as salt and pepper shakers, and cookie jars, among other forms of domestic and popular
culture. It has become a negative figure that looms large in the American imagination and elsewhere.
Rather than reproducing that stereotype as many other artists have done, I took the stereotype image of Hattie McDaniel, who played “Mammy” in Gone with the Wind. I
capture aspects of her human identity in the seriousness of her face, posture, and full-figure. She is wearing attire, dress and headdress, of Black domestic women servants
and slaves. In the composition, this Black American woman stands amid her African American culture, the American flag, and African sculpture, textiles, and
architecture. Behind her are a quilt made by an enslaved Black woman, juxtaposed with the American flag. The quilt, basket in her hand, and the pottery at her feet
connect her to art created during slavery and traced to Africa.
She holds a seagrass basket made by the Gullah people of Charleston, South Carolina, traced to West Africa. At her feet are a face-vessel made by enslaved populations
of the Edgefield district of South Carolina, traced to the Congo.
African sculptures of powerful, female, royal, ancestral leaders dominate the composition. They represent women of Africa along female lines—matrilineage. A seated
queen of the Asante of Ghana, a standing ancient Nok figure with child of Northern Nigeria, and royal female heads of Ife and Benin of Nigeria. Popular female figures
are also represented. The Akuaba doll of the Asante and the Kanuri doll of Northern Nigeria are associated with women’s fertility and girls’ child play, respectively. The
Zulu Doll of South Africa, fully adorned with beads and cowry shells, stands in front of the Black woman domestic. It is dynamically animated with beads and cowrie shells
in a warrior figure stance, punctuating Black women’s determination and resistance to all forms of oppression. The decorative elements of beads and cowrie shells move
across the composition with a force, as does the animated grass in the lower foreground of the composition. The partially hidden Queen mother figure of Benin figure
below the Zulu doll symbolizes both queenly heritage and the looting of these forms by the British in the 1897 British Expedition. This is a work that pays homage to Black
women of America, Africa, and the African Diaspora. It focuses on their humanity, beauty, dignity, creativity, and their images in art that long predated the derogatory
Jemima image that was cast onto the lives of Black women over centuries.
Others who have written about this work are 1Robert Henkes in 1993, "Freida High W. Tesfagiorgis," The Art of Black American Women: Works of Twenty -Four Artists of the
Twentieth Century by, Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc.; Lisa Farrington in 2005, Creating Their Own Image: The History of African America
Women. New York and Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press; and Kathy Curnow in 2016, “African Motherhood’s Long History: Aunt Jemima’s Matrilineage by Freida High,” IYARE!
Splendor and Tension in Benin’s Palace Theatre (companion exhibition catalogue, Penn State University.