Paper Money

Cincinnati museum hosts exhibit of paper money art

A traveling exhibit merging currency and art, “Confederate Currency: The Color of Money,” opened April 6 at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. The center describes the exhibit as an investigation of the significance of slavery in the economy of the South. 

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South Carolina artist John W. Jones researched over 126 images of enslaved Africans on Confederate and obsolete Southern state currency and transformed them into colorful acrylic works of art.

Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Byron McCauley says in a review of the exhibit that the color and medium used make the currency come to life, but with a caveat: It is life as seen through the eyes of the people who controlled the money, and who used free labor for the preservation and accumulation of their own wealth. For example, “Slave moms and babies looking happy in the field. Slave males look healthy and jubilant in nice shirts, even as they toil behind mules or under the weight of a cotton sack. An overseer with a whip sits on his horse, surveying the workers on another note.”

Underlying his work, Jones says, is that “in these paintings, history informs art, which in turn artfully reveals more history.” The exhibit has traveled to the Avery Research Center Museum, the African American Museum and Library at Oakland, Louisiana State University, Schumacher Gallery, and the Augusta Museum of History, among others. 

Jones was presented with the U.S. Consul General’s Award for Cultural Diplomacy by the Academia delle Belle Arti of Brera in Italy in April 2017. 

More information about the display’s appearance in Cincinatti is here.

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