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Americanization. Lewis’s ideal works helped to reinforce her claims, and
they allowed her to participate in (create, buttress, and reflect) the domi-
nant ideologies of her era. Simultaneously, the manner in which Lewis
chose to depict Cleopatra, Hagar, Minnehaha, and the Freedwoman ex-
pose her attempt to extricate African/American and Native American
women from the representational burden of race as it was construed in
American sculpture and in American society. Lewis’s ideal works empha-
size family, love, courtship, marriage, and feminine consent to “racially ap-
propriate” patriarchy as solutions to the dangers faced by nonwhite women
in the United States.
Out of these disjunctures, Lewis was able to create disjunction, defined
as the correlation of two distinct alternatives. Her greatest illusion is the
perception that she is embodied by her work, that her assertions of either
Africanness or Indianness are real rather than signifiers. Lewis’s disjunction
has been ably assisted by art history; specifically the lack of dialogue among
art historians about Lewis is the discourse. It is a discourse of noncommu-
nication, a flattening or flat-lining of potentially rich exchanges. The result
is an unresponsive and rigid discipline that expands beyond Lewis to en-
compass artists such as Robert S. Duncanson and Henry Ossawa Tanner.
In accord with the lack of dialogue-as-discourse is the reversion to control-
ling images of otherness when writing about these artists, testing and mea-
suring their adherence to these representations in order to confirm their
authenticity—a mutually defining authenticity that implicates and affirms
the controlling image as a true rendering of the artist and vice versa.
Why do we still converse with stereotype?
Contributing to the unresponsiveness of art history as a discipline is
the attitude that a “separate but equal” procedure is sufficient for the task
of telling a complete story. One example will suffice. In 1998, the Oxford
History of Art series published two much-needed surveys: Janet C. Berlo’s
and Ruth B. Phillips’s Native North American Art and Sharon F. Patton’s
African-American Art. These studies represent themselves as exactly what
they are, surveys that focus on the creativity of Native Americans and Afri-
can Americans. Two years later Barbara Groseclose published Nineteenth-
Century American Art, which on the surface does not represent itself as
what it is—a survey of European American art, primarily by artists of the
northeastern region of the United States. Groseclose summarizes the pur-
pose and sensitivities of her study in the following manner: “Nineteenth-
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