AWE (A Woman’s Experience)


art history, women's studies, racial studies


This paper explores the complex relationship between artists and their subjects, particularly with regard to race and gender. Using Niki Saint-Phalle’s definition of “truthful representation,” I consider the issues that race and gender pose to this ideal using the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, an eighteenth-century aristocratic woman of mixed race. The intriguing life of Dido Elizabeth Belle is especially relevant to today’s evolving definition of intersectional feminism. Her portrait Painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle and her Cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray (1779, formerly attributed to Johann Zoffany) challenges the idea of “truthful representation” because it was presumably painted by a white male. However, in 2014, Amma Asante, a female director of African descent, was inspired by the work and felt compelled to direct a film (Belle) highlighting the significance of Dido’s life and even changing features of the original portrait. This contrast between the male-produced painting and the female-directed film is analyzed and critiqued within a current feminist context. In order to provide additional comparisons to Dido’s representation, two other works are considered: namely Portrait d’une négresse (1800) by Marie-Guillemine Benoist and Hagar (1875) by Edmonia Lewis.


Madison Blonquist is an undergraduate student at Brigham Young University. She is completing coursework for a BA in music, BA in humanities, and an art history minor and is scheduled to graduate in June 2018. While at BYU, Madison has had several opportunities to learn outside of the classroom. In the summer of 2013, she participated in the Pembroke-King’s Programme at Cambridge University in England. Since returning home from an LDS mission in New York City in 2015, Madison has been a recipient of the Reid Nibley Scholarship, the Film and Digital Media Fund, and an ORCA grant. She is currently working as a curatorial assistant at the Brigham Young Museum of Art and hopes to one day be able to secure a position as an art curator.0