Did Race-Faker Rachel Dolezal Plagiarize J.M.W. Turner?

J.M.W. Turner, Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On) (1840). Photo: courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
J.M.W. Turner, Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On) (1840). Photo: courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Rachel Dolezal with her Turner-sque painting. Photo: Shawntelle Moncy, courtesy the <em>Easterner</em>.

Rachel Dolezal with her Turner-sque painting.
Photo: Shawntelle Moncy, courtesy the Easterner.

Controversy and scandal continues to plague artist and activist Rachel Dolezal, who has now been accused of plagiarizing a famous J.M.W. Turner painting.

One piece, an acrylic triptych, caught the attention of eagle-eyed Twitter users Jolie Adams and Courtney Lee Adams Jr., who pointed out that the second panel, titled The Shape of Our Kind, bears a striking resemblance to Turner’s 1840 painting Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On).

Dolezal recently resigned from her post as president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, after a local news story emerged that questioned her racial background (see Artist Rachel Dolezal Who Lied About Being Black Defends Her Art on the Today Show).

J.M.W. Turner, <em>Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On)</em> (1840). Photo: courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

J.M.W. Turner, Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On) (1840).
Photo: courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

On her blog, which has not been updated since 2012, Dolezal, who describes herself as “an award-winning mixed media artist with over 20 exhibitions in 13 states,” shares images of her artwork, which includes paintings and sculptures.

“I had recently watched the movie Mr. Turner, so his painting was fresh in my mind when I looked at the blog,” Courtney Lee Adams told artnet News via Twitter (see Timothy Spall Reveals What It’s Like to Play J.M.W. Turner.)

The original Turner painting belongs to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The artist was inspired by the true story of the slave ship Zong, where crew members would cruelly throw sick and dying slaves overboard because the insurance policy only covered slaves lost at sea.

Rachel Dolezal, <em>The Shape of Our Kind</em>. Photo: Rachel Dolezal.

Rachel Dolezal, The Shape of Our Kind.
Photo: Rachel Dolezal.

The critic John Ruskin wrote, “If I were reduced to rest Turner’s immortality upon any single work, I should choose this.”

Given that Dolezal’s work is so intrinsically tied to black identity, it seems reasonable that she might have intentionally incorporated such a renowned painting depicting the horrors inflicted on slaves into her work.

A charcoal drawing by Rachel Dolezal for sale on eBay. Photo via: eBay.

A charcoal drawing by Rachel Dolezal for sale on eBay.
Photo via: eBay.

 

However, Dolezal’s description of the work on Art Pal, where it is available for sale, makes it harder to accept such a charitable reading. There, the apparent Turner knock-off is available as a stand-alone work (the original has been marked down from $7,800 to $5,100, or you can buy a print or coffee mug featuring the work).

The work’s description makes no reference to slavery, noting only that it is one panel of a larger work “representing absence, loss, and closure in relationships. The sharks and doves in this scene symbolize the contrast between cynicism and optimism in the male and female figures and the tumultuous water is offset by the verticality of the sun.”

Rachel Dolezal, <em>The Return</em>, the third panel in a triptych that appears to be heavily inspired by a Turner painting. Photo: Rachel Dolezal.

Rachel Dolezal, The Return, the third panel in a triptych that appears to be heavily inspired by a Turner painting.
Photo: Rachel Dolezal.

Two Dolezal works have also allegedly made their way to eBay, where they have failed to attract any bidders with opening prices of $5,000 (or $50,000 if one would like to buy it now). The charcoal drawings depict a black man and child, and are done on elk hide leather, “bridging Rachel’s youth spent hunting elk in Montana with her deep involvement in the black civil rights movement,” as noted by the seller.

Dolezal’s blog states that she received her MFA in experimental studio with a minor in sculpture at Howard University, a predominantly black college in Washington, DC.


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