Visual artist Grace Lynne Haynes debuted a new portrait of famed abolitionist Sojourner Truth (1797-1883) for the cover story of The New Yorker, titled “Sojourner Truth, Founding Mother,” the magazine announced July 27 via Twitter. The painting and the feature is an homage to Truth—who championed women’s right to vote—on the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment.
The vibrant artwork is a reimagining of Truth’s famous archival photo. Truth was born Isabella Bomfree in New York, where her reported six-foot frame is seated at a table as the vanguard stared back into the camera’s lens. During her lecture tour in 1851, Truth delivered the famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech at a women’s rights conference in Akron, Ohio, where she challenged race and gender discrimination at once.
In the New Yorker interview, Haynes shared the inspiration behind the painting and the Truth’s legacy and why she adorns Black women in color in her paintings. Read some of the highlights below:
On focusing on Sojourner Truth:
“I learned about Sojourner Truth as a child, in grade school, and was always inspired by her tenacity, will, and futuristic vision, especially given the circumstances she was born into. I wanted to shed light on her legacy, which reminds women that no matter what has happened in their lives, they can still have a powerful impact on society. She was not only a major advocate for women’s rights but also one of the first Black women to win a case against a white man, a case she brought in order to recover her son. That was in the oppressive year of 1828. She was a force to be reckoned with.”
On painting Black women in color:
“I’ve always loved being a Black woman; that is the basis of my work. My passion comes from showing the Black female figure in ways that I often don’t see in the media. There is a lack of nuance in portrayals of Black womanhood—I turn my frustration with that into paintings. The patterns and colors in my work, meanwhile, have been inspired by my experiences in Senegal and South Africa. Seeing the bright, bold colors in Senegal, which stray from linear rules of pattern, inspired me to juxtapose various textures and colors in one image.”
On her residency with Kehinde Wiley’s Black Rock Senegal:
The residency also challenged my perspective by placing me in a creative experience outside the Western Hemisphere. I think it’s essential, as an artist, to create new experiences, and to step outside of your comfort zone.
Visit the New Yorker here to read the complete interview.