- Black Liberty -
The Truth Behind The Statue.
For my Masters Project at the London College of Fashion I undertook the study of African American History, As part of my exploratory analysis of African American History I noticed that during the Centennial Celebrations for the Statue of Liberty, the overwhelming majority of the literature associated with the monument omit any notion of the abolitionist movements involvement in its formation, despite the fact that in New York City Labolaye was aided with the design by the Anti-Slavery Union League.
Additionally during the statue’s inauguration the abolitionist societies praised the newly unveiled “goddess of liberty” as a “tribute to the Union Victory and abolition of Slavery” as did Albert W. Lefaivre, a guest speaker who noted it “ended the emancipation of 5 million brethren.”
There may not be categorical evidence to state whether or not the Statue of Liberty was to have been an African American female but it was certainly meant to represent an end to slavery and the original model did possess the facial features of an African woman and in broken shackles.
As the United States only accepted the gift, after Bartholdi removed the chains from her arm (replacing it with a tablet inscribed with the date of the United States Declaration of Independence) and made her facial features and overall design more European it is highly suggestive that the rumours she was originally meant to portray a freed African American are true.
The concept of the film was to give Liberty a voice, as for nearly 125 years she has been silenced. I chose Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruits for the potent lyrical content, which hauntingly vocalized the horrific acts of racial violence and prejudice towards African Americans. Billy Holidays rendition of the song was selected as her voice conveys the emotion not only of the lyrics but also of the inequality she was suffering at the time, ironically some 60 years after Liberty was created to represent African American equality.
“Somewhere between film, performance and historical dream sequence, this short film is the thoughtful meditation on race, identity and history and sets out to create a thought-provoking response to the African American struggle. Set to the sound of Billie Holidays Strange Fruits. The film reveals the hidden history of the Statue of Liberty, which as the film-makers research reveals, might have looked very different” - Nilgin Yusuf
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