Afro-Hispanic Work Songs in Early Modern Spain: Dr Carmen Fracchia – Wednesday 21st November 2018 7pm

Afro-Hispanic Work Songs in Early Modern Spain

Speaker: Dr Carmen Fracchia (Reader in Hispanic Art History in the School of Arts, Birkbeck)
In association with the Postcolonial Reading Group in the Department of English and Humanities.

Discussant: Dr. Mpalive Msiska (Birkbeck) Organizer: Soody Gholami (Birkbeck)
Wednesday 21st November 2018

19:00 – 20:00, Keynes Library
43 Gordon Square

In her paper, Dr. Carmen Fracchia explores the ways in which the Afro-Hispanic proverb or refrain Black but Human is deployed in the recently discovered work songs or black carols, written in ‘black speech’, in a mixture of Castilian and a variety of African languages. These sixteenth-century poems by anonymous African slaves and ex-slaves born in Spain were later reappropriated by Hispanic writers (such as, Lope de Vega, Luis de Góngora or Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz). These songs are infused with the idea that to be human is to have a soul and they focus centrally on the association between the concept of being human and the possession of a soul that becomes white as the result of the transformative effects of baptism. Their struggle for freedom will be conveyed by the end of the seventeenth century in a radically different work song written in Castilian by a black freedman (only published in 2014).

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Black History Month Seminar Series: Dr Carmen Fracchia 4th November 2016




Depicting the Emergence of the Afro-Hispanic Subject and the Formation of the Black Nation in early modern Spain Dr Carmen Fracchia, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Cultures and Languages

6.30pm-8.30pm on Friday 4 November 2016, in the Keynes Library (Room 114), Birkbeck, University of London, 43 Gordon Square. London WC1H 0PD

The Afro-Hispanic proverb Black but Human will serve as a lens through which I explore the ways in which certain early modern visual representation of slavery both embody and reproduce hegemonic visions of subaltern groups and at the same time provide material for critical and emancipatory practices by African slaves and ex-slaves themselves in Habsburg Spain. My paper will argue that deep ethnic prejudices against black slaves and ex-slaves in the crowns of Castile and Aragón did not prevent the emergence of the ‘Afro-Hispanic subject’ in the visual form articulated by a range of artists from Spain, the Spanish territories in Europe, and New Spain (Mexico). I will focus on the extraordinary seventeenth-century case of the portrait of the slave Juan de Pareja by his celebrated slave owner, Diego Velázquez and the self-portrait of freedman Juan de Pareja in his paintingThe Calling of St Matthew. This paper will also explore the ways in which the Black but Human topos codifies the multilayered processes through which a ‘black nation’ forges a collective resistance and the ways in which it is articulated in Pareja’s 3-metre long masterpiece for the Habsburg court in Madrid (now in the basement of the Prado Museum).

*The Seminar is convened and chaired by Dr Mpalive Msiska (, Reader in English and Humanities, Birkbeck, University of London, United Kingdom.


No booking required

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