Mia L. Bagneris

Scholarly Retreats
Type of work

Associate Professor Mia L. Bagneris teaches African diaspora art history and studies of race in Western Art. She is also Director of the Africana Studies Program. Concentrating primarily on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British and American art and visual culture, much of her scholarship investigates the representation of race in the Anglo-American world and the place of images in the histories of slavery, colonialism, empire, and the construction of national identities. Her recently published monograph, Colouring the Caribbean: Race and the art of Agostino Brunias, offers the first comprehensive study of the artist’s pictures, made for British plantocrats and colonial elites, which feature Caribbeans of color—so called ‘Red’ and ‘Black’ Carib Indians, dark-skinned Africans and Afro-Creoles, and people of mixed race.

During her residency Dr. Bagneris worked on her next book, Imagining the Oriental South: The Enslaved Mixed-Race Beauty in British Art and Culture, c. 1865-1900. This project considers Britons’ pronounced and continued fascination with the enslaved, mixed-race beauty (better known as mulatto/quadroon/octoroon) in art and literature even and especially after the abolition of slavery in the United States made the potential political suasion of this figure moot. As part of this investigation, the project explores marked visual and rhetorical echoes between representations of the enslaved mixed-race beauty and concurrent expressions of Orientalism in Western visual culture. Against the upright and respectable image of Victorian England, the South—and especially Catholic Louisiana—could be imagined as a place of luxury, debauchery, and desire, a perfect echo to the Orient and one made stronger by the association of both regions with the traffic in pretty women as “sex slaves”. Dr. Bagneris’s article, “Miscegenation in Marble: John Bell’s Octoroon”, recently published in Art Bulletin (June 2020), provides a preview of this scholarship.

“I took a break in the late afternoon most days just to walk around and observe the breathtaking surroundings—all the beautiful green, the native calla lillies and the hummingbirds who love them, the yellow crested herons who made a nest high in the tress above the point and cared for their babies, the owl who visited the meadow every night and announced his arrival with telltale hoots, the ubiquitous frogs and lizards and tiny butterfiles, and oh-so-many bugs! In addition to my writing spot on the deck of the Writer’s Cabin, my favourite spot was the porch swing overlooking the pond where I’d sometimes sit with my lunch or novel and read. In addition to being a very productive work time, after a particularly tough year and a ridiculously hectic semester, this residency was also a much needed recharge time. I sign my Friday or early summer emails with a wish that that time is “productive and/or restorative” for the recepient, adding a joke that those two adjectives are probably mutually exclusive. My residency at A Studio in the Woods proved that joke wrong. It’s been both productive and restorative.” – Mia L. Bagneris