Edmonia Lewis’ Neoclassical statue, Forever Free, depicts two slaves who have been freed due to the Emancipation Proclamation and the Union victory of the Civil War. This full-length statue is one of Lewis’ most well-known works.
Lewis’ statue represents the empowerment of male African Americans because he was able to achieve his own freedom by breaking his chains. As opposed to classical Neoclassical sculptures, the female is completely dressed and the male is partially dressed. This empowers the woman because her body is concealed physically and figuratively from the dehumanizing and objectifying elements of slavery.
Although slaves were granted their freedom with the end of the Civil War, they were still oppressed and unequal. This idea is illustrated through the broken chains still around the figures’ limbs. The woman kneels in prayer while the man raises his fist to the heavens. The kneeling slave was a popular motif among abolitionist works.
Lewis portrays her male figure in the Neoclassical contrapposto stance, and the female wears the classical Roman costume. Despite the passive expressions on the figures’ faces, the sculpture gives an undeniable air of passion and grace. The representation of African American liberation provides a powerful and moving hope for others still facing enslavement.
Farrington, Lisa. African-American Art: A Visual and Cultural History. New York City: Oxford UP, 2017. Print.