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Pocohontas
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Marisol wants to make sure you get your facts straight about Pocahontas.

Long before Disney bastardized the story of Pocahontas, Simon Van De Passe made an engraving that erased all traces of the real Pocahontas, or Moatoaka, Amonute, or Rebecca – she was known by several names throughout her life. Realizing that Van De Passe’s 1616 engraving was just plain wrong, Marisol used her own art to expose the lies of his representation of Chief Powhatan’s daughter.

Although Van De Passe met Pocahontas and created her portrait from life during her time in England, there are a few choice features that he “forgot” to include. The first thing that Marisol corrected was her unarguably dark skin. She prompts us to think about what the real Pocahontas would have looked like. But staying true to Van De Passe’s original depiction, which shows her as a proud English woman, makes us rethink how a Native American might have felt after having a new identity forced on her. Her questionable marriage to John Rolfe resulted in a new country (England), a new religion (Christianity), and even a new name (Rebecca). It’s hard to imagine that she would have taken this all with a smile – I know I wouldn’t. Marisol also made the original work’s text easier to read, which highlights her fraught history and split identity.

As we all know, what really happened doesn’t make for a great movie. Disney made us believe that Pocahontas was a fearless young woman who united the English and her people in the name of love for John Smith. Well...all that is BS. While Pocahontas really was Chief Powhatan’s daughter, John Smith left for England in 1609. Then, in 1613, Captain Samuel Argall kidnapped Pocahontas, held her captive for a year, and then used her as ransom during negotiations with Powhatan. There’s no way to tell if she did it voluntarily, but she then converted to Christianity and married John Rolfe, a tobacco farmer. She died just before the group was to make their journey back to America and was buried at a local church in Gravesend, England. Definitely not singing with all the colors of the wind material.

Marisol was no stranger to using cultural icons. After all, she was friends with Andy Warhol. But unlike Andy, she emphasized those who had been left out of history. So she knew exactly what she was doing when she chose this portrait to redo. It’s the oldest work in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery’s collection and is a perfect example of how we’ve whitewashed history to erase the horrible things that have happened in the name of the United States of America.

Sources

Sources

  1. Arnason, H.H., and Elizabeth C. Mansfield, History of Modern Art. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc., 2013.
  2. Powhatan Museum of Indigenous Arts and Culture. “Pocahontas.” 2007. http://powhatanmuseum.com/Pocahontas.html. Accessed June 26, 2018.
  3. Sheridan, Stephanie. “From the Collection: Pocahontas,” Blog, National Portrait Gallery, May 23, 2014, http://npg.si.edu/blog/collection-pocahontas (accessed June 26, 2018).
  4. Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies. “Pocahontas Engraving.” Primary Sources. Smithsonian Source: Resources for Teaching American History. 2007. http://www.smithsoniansource.org/display/primarysource/viewdetails.aspx?....
  5. Yerman, Marcia G. “Marisol: Sculptures and Works on Paper at El Museo del Barrio.” The Huffington Post. The Blog. December 6, 2017. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/marcia-g-yerman/marisol-sculptures-and-wo.... Accessed June 26, 2018.