Barbara Chase-Riboud

(b. 1936)

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(b. 1936), sculptor, poet, novelist, essayist, and literary and visual pluralist.

As a visual artist and writer Barbara Dewayne Chase-Riboud (D'ashnash Tosi) blends African worlds with European, Asian, and Muslim worlds. Embracing differences is central to her idea of coupling or combining opposites. Chase-Riboud was born in Philadelphia to parents who encouraged her talents in the arts. With their support, her interest in the visual arts grew. She received a BFA from Temple University (1957). In the same year she was awarded a John Hay Whitney Fellowship to study art in Rome. Returning to the United States, Chase-Riboud completed an MFA at Yale (1960). From 1957 to 1977 Chase-Riboud exhibited widely in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and the United States. Although she is not an expatriate, Chase-Riboud lives with her second husband, Sergio Tosi, in Paris and Rome.

Her world travels with her first husband (photojournalist Marc Riboud) during the 1960s inspired Chase-Riboud's initial efforts as a writer. From Memphis to Peking (1974) is her collection of poetry based on the motif of traveling spiritually, physically, and sensually to Egypt (Memphis) and the People's Republic of China, where she was the first woman visitor since the 1949 revolution. With her publication of Sally Hemings (1979) and Echo of Lions (1989), Chase-Riboud can be included in the African American neo-slave narrative tradition, which extends from Margaret Walker's Jubilee (1966) to J. California Cooper's Family (1991). Although Chase-Riboud is not the first African American novelist to treat the alleged Jefferson-Sally Hemings affair (see William Wells Brown, Clotel, 1853), her novel reignited the controversy over the authenticity of the relationship. At the heart of Sally Hemings is the interrelationship among love, politics, and slavery. Chase-Riboud suggests that Jefferson's abandonment of antislavery sentiments is due to his relationship with Hemings, his wife's half sister, whom he keeps in bondage because setting her free would mean she would have to leave Virginia. Valide: A Novel of the Harem (1986) depicts slavery in the Ottoman Empire during the late eighteenth century. Chase-Riboud uncovers the little known world of the harem through the protagonist, a Martinican woman who is captured and sold to Sultan Abdulhamid I. The woman rises through the ranks of the harem to become valide when her son becomes sultan. Although still a slave, as valide, she holds the highest position for women in the empire. The novel portrays harem women as living lives of boredom and self-indulgence, engaging in murder or manipulation in the competition to be chosen by the sultan. Portrait of a Nude Woman As Cleopatra (1987), Chase-Riboud's second collection of poems, connects her visual and literary talents. Observing a Rembrandt sketch with the same title, Chase-Riboud was inspired to write a narrative dialogue between Mark Antony and Cleopatra framed by Plutarch's story. In Echo of Lions (1989) Chase-Riboud presents the story of Joseph Cinque and fifty-three men who, as slave captives, murder most of the slave ship's crew and attempt to sail back to Africa.

The Africans land off the coast of Long Island and are jailed but John Quincy Adams successfully defends them.


Subjects: Literature.

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