Into Bondage

Aaron Douglas, oil on canvas, c. 1936

Into Bondage premiered as one element of a four-part mural series in the Hall of Negro Life at the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition in Dallas. It was Douglas’ intention to create and present fresh, modern images depicting the contributions of African Americans to the state’s history and achievements. This painting portrays slavery, as Douglas believed that understanding the past was essential to moving forward in the future.

The bound captives descend toward two large ships that are set to transport the Africans across the Atlantic to their future of enslavement. While most of the men’s heads are bowed low in despair, the woman on the left looks up and raises her shackled hands above the horizon line.

The large central figure’s eye slit recalls the masks of the Dan people of Africa. His profiled head and chest and twist of the hips demonstrate Douglas’ predilection for ancient Egyptian art. Although the man stands on a pedestal referencing the auction block from which he will be sold, a ray of light from the North Star, which guided slaves on the Underground Railroad, illuminates his face and foreshadows his ultimate freedom.

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