The Bowdoin College Museum of Art is showcasing “African/American: Two Centuries of Portraits” through Feb. 9, 2020. Elizabeth Humphrey, a 2014 Bowdoin graduate who is now curatorial assistant and manager of student programs, poses alongside museum co-director Frank Goodyear. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

BRUNSWICK — Long separated by an ocean, two paintings of prominent African-American men sharing the same last name, painted by the same African-American Baltimore artist around the same time roughly 210 years ago, sit side-by-side in a Bowdoin College Museum of Art gallery.

The dual portraits are among the paintings, photographs and texts displayed in “African/American: Two Centuries of Portraits,” a Becker Gallery exhibit that runs through Feb. 9, 2020.

One portrait, owned by the college, is of Abner Coker, a minister of Baltimore’s Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. It is one of a few recorded portraits of an African-American person painted by Joshua Johnson (1789-1832), who is among the earliest known African-American artists.

Next to Abner Coker’s portrait is one Bowdoin is borrowing from the American Museum & Garden in Bath, England, of Daniel Coker, an African-American of mixed race who lived in Baltimore at a time when 20% of the population was black, but only half enjoyed tenuous freedom, according to information provided by the college. Coker wrote in 1810’s “A Dialogue Between a Virginian and an African Minister” that emancipating those enslaved would not be “wronging the master, but doing justice to the slave, restoring him to himself.”

Lauryn Dove, a Bowdoin junior, curated the exhibit. Contributed

It was curated by Bowdoin junior Lauryn Dove, who was assisted by Elizabeth Humphrey, a 2014 Bowdoin graduate who is now curatorial assistant and manager of student programs.

Dove, who is studying abroad in London, said by email that when she was given the opportunity to curate an exhibit that commemorates 50 years since Bowdoin’s creation of its Black Student Union, Africana studies program and the John Brown Russwurm Center, she wanted to create something that had not before been seen.

“From my own experience consuming media about this period in Black history, it seems that select narratives are repeated over and over again and erase certain voices in doing so,” she said. “I wanted to highlight untold stories to inspire others to question what we learn and find what pieces we’re missing.”

Dove added that the exhibit “demonstrates that various forms of discrimination are inherent in the world around us and continue to have impacts on many groups across the world. I hope that those who see it have at least one piece that sticks with them to help keep its story alive.”

While Dove was interested in the representation of African-Americans in the years before the American Civil War, there were other items in the museum’s collection that “we brought out to think about the ways in which African-Americans were represented in art, and in photography,” museum co-director Frank Goodyear said in an interview alongside Humphrey. “But also to think about the achievements and struggles of African-Americans during this period, recognizing some of the important African-American contributions to the arts.”

Dove expanded her focus beyond the pre-war period to incorporate more contemporary elements, “how to expand the narrative not only to include African-Americans but the African diaspora more broadly,” Humphrey said.

Other portraits in the gallery include one of Russworm, an 1826 Bowdoin alumnus who was one of the first African-Americans to graduate from the college. There is also a 1787 anti-slavery medallion by the Briton Josiah Wedgwood, which shows an enslaved black man on one knee, pleading with clasped shackled hands.

There is also an 1869 marble bust by Edmonia Lewis, who had an Afro-Haitian father and a Mississauga Ojibwe mother, and whose work was recognized internationally in 1876 when her sculpture “The Death of Cleopatra” was shown at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.

A display case features two autobiographies of former slaves – Frederick Douglass and Harriet Ann Jacobs – and a biography of Phillis Wheatley by antislavery leader Benjamin Bussey Thatcher.

Late 1960s photos by American Danny Lyon focus on African-American men incarcerated in Texan prisons, showing that although slavery had been abolished a century before, involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime was still allowed, meaning that black people were still put to hard labor for crimes as minimal as vagrancy and loitering.

The museum can be reached at 725-3275 or [email protected].

Comments are not available on this story.