The Complexities of Phillis Wheatley’s Portrait

featuring Dr. Jennifer Y. Chuong

Wednesday, October 25th

1:00 pm ET

Virtual Event | Free

(Register Here)

In the fall of 1773, the Senegambian-born, American-enslaved poet Phillis Wheatley was the first Black woman to publish a book in the transatlantic world. In addition to thirty-nine poems authored by Wheatley, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, features an engraved frontispiece portrait of the author. In tandem with Wheatley’s poetry, this portrait was meant to attest to the material existence of an enslaved person who, by virtue of her intelligence, erudition, and imagination, exploded slavery’s foundational claim that enslaved persons were objects to be bought and sold. Dr. Jennifer Chuong’s talk explores both the ways in which the portrait supports these aims and the ways in which it undercuts them. Understanding its doubled representation—of Wheatley as a person deserving of freedom, on the one hand, and of Wheatley as a person whose race precludes full subjective recognition, on the other—provides a key to understanding her vexed reception, from her time to ours. Join us for the culminating event in our year of programming celebrating the 250th anniversary of Phillis Wheatley’s seminal work.

Dr. Jennifer Y. Chuong is an art historian whose research centers on the art, architecture, and material culture of the transatlantic world in the 18th and 19th centuries as they relate to histories of environment and race. She holds a PhD and MA in the History of Art and Architecture from Harvard University, an MS in the History, Theory, and Criticism of Architecture and Art from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a Bachelors of Architecture from Cornell University. In her work Dr. Chuong prioritizes the intelligence of makers and making in order to expand our understanding of what art is, and who makes it. In addition to the frontispiece portrait of Phillis Wheatley, recent publications have focused on the tacit contributions of revolutionary printers, the nature of early American veneer furniture, the appeal and meaning of “gloss” in 19th-century America, as well as the surfaces of Alex Katz’s artworks. 

Closed captioning will be available. If you have any accessibility questions or need any assistence registering, please call 215-546-3181 x 144.

Sponsored by the Visual Culture Program


Oct 25 2023


1:00 pm - 2:00 pm

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The Library Company of Philadelphia
1300 Locust St., 1:15 pm – 2:15 pm


The Library Company of Philadelphia
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