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Harriet Tubman, an American Superhero

7 Mar

"The Conductor," detail of a quilt from The Underground Railroad series by Mary Johnson. Photo courtesy of B2 Fine Art Gallery/Studios

A former slave, a daring abolitionist, and a spy and armed scout for the Union Army during the Civil War, Harriet Tubman (1820-1913) is one of the great figures of American history – a superhero for the antebellum era. Tubman’s enthralling life story is the subject of Sweet Freedom’s Jubilee, a five-week celebration marking the 99th anniversary of Tubman’s death at B2 Fine Art Gallery/Studios from March 9 – April 21.

"Have Mercy Lawd" by Mar'zil Davis. Photo courtesy of B2 Fine Art Gallery/Studios

Sweet Freedom’s Jubilee explores the life of the most famous of the Underground Railroad “conductors” through visual art and performance. The exhibition opens March 9 with a reception for fiber artist Mary Johnson and sculptor Mar’zil Davis. Johnson is an Alabama-based textile artist whose meticulously constructed series of quilts, The Underground Railroad, depicts Tubman’s harrowing exploits leading slaves to freedom in the North. Mar’zil Davis is a Seattle-based artist whose sculptures provide a realistic perspective into the lives of slaves.

On March  25 and April 21, B2 will present performances of A Visit with Harriet Tubman featuring Karol Brown as the worldly-wise, 92-year-old “Aunt Harriet,” an outrageously brave and resourceful woman who led fugitive slaves armed with a gun, and threatened those tempted to turn back: “You’ll be free or die.” James Brown is Brother Ely, a character who captivates audiences with his smooth tenor and delivery of Negro spirituals. Together, their dialogue “warms your ear, tickles your funny bone, stimulates your imagination [and] motivates your spirit as they educate your mind,” says B2 co-owner and co-curator, Deborah Boone.

Tubman’s story is larger than life: born a slave, she escaped a life of maltreatment and oppression to became a key figure amongst the network of abolitionists known as the Underground Railroad. She went on in the post-bellum era to fight for humanitarian causes including women’s suffrage. The Virtual School at Vanderbilt University offers this synopsis of her life: “As a child in Dorchester County, Maryland, Tubman was beaten by masters to whom she was hired out. Early in her life, she suffered a head wound when hit by a heavy metal weight. The injury caused disabling seizures, narcoleptic attacks, headaches, and powerful visionary and dream activity, which occurred throughout her life. A devout Christian, Tubman ascribed the visions and vivid dreams to revelations from God. Continue reading

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