Tubman Statue Bigger Than Life

Photo: Ken Ek, Courtesy Goya Contemporary Gallery.

By Susan Nolan

Historians and biographers tell us Harriet Tubman was no more than 5-foot-2. Her legendary courage, however, was that of a giant.

Baltimore artist and MacArthur Fellow Dr. Joyce J. Scott has captured Tubman’s larger-than-life heroism in her 10-foot-tall sculpture titled Araminta with Rifle and Vévé. Constructed from painted milled foam with found objects, blown glass, and mixed media appliqués, this unique work of art will be on display at Annapolis’ Banneker-Douglass Museum from September 1, 2022 through September 2023.

“The timing of its arrival is especially fitting,” says Schillica Howard, the museum’s Curator of Collections. “The year 2022 is the 200th anniversary of Harriet Tubman’s birth and September is International Underground Railroad Month.”

The statue depicts the famed Underground Railroad conductor holding a beaded rifle adorned with flowers and a beaded staff, called a vévé. Initially created as a part of Scott’s 2018 exhibition entitled Harriet Tubman and Other Truths at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, N.J., the sheer size of Araminta makes it unusual.

“Dr. Scott is a world-renowned artist. Her other sculptures are much smaller, no more than 3 or 4 feet tall,” explains Howard.

Howard considers Scott’s work to be a touchstone in the museum’s 38-year history. “In 1986, just two years after Banneker-Douglass Museum opened, it held its first ever group art exhibition featuring the work of six artists. Dr. Scott was the only female artist represented in that exhibition,” she says. 

“The Banneker-Douglass Museum interprets the African-American experience and culture in Maryland, and of course, our museum is named for two very important and influential African-American men,” says Howard. “Having this sculpture at our museum expands our opportunity to explore the experiences of Black women.”

While Araminta with Rifle and Vévé is a stand-alone piece, it is also part of an upcoming exhibition, The Radical Voice of Blackness Speaks of Resistance and Joy opening Nov.10. Guest-curated by Myrtis Bedolla of Galerie Myrtis in Baltimore, the exhibition will feature the work of 15 Black Maryland-based artists and pieces from the Banneker-Douglass Museum Fine Art Collection. The exhibition will use art to explore America’s fraught history of systemic racism while celebrating the resiliency of African-Americans.

“Having an exhibition connected to big names in the art community, curated by Myrtis Bedolla, showing the art of Dr. Scott, these are things we can do because of our visitors’ support,” adds Howard.

For more information, visit bdmuseum.maryland.gov.