Remarks by Nazeer Bacchus ‘19 M.A.R.

My name is Nazeer Bacchus, and I am a third-year Masters of Arts student here at YDS. I had the privilege of serving as a representative on the committee that commissioned the portrait of James Pennington, and I would just like to share a few brief remarks on the process.

When the committee discussed the vision for this portrait, we wanted to be very intentional about our every step. We recognized the importance of representing James Pennington: the first African American man to attend YDS, but also a figure shrouded in anonymity, denied a voice, and refused representation by this very institution. We knew that in honoring this man, it was important to solicit proposals from artists of color.

Before this portrait was created, the only renderings of Pennington on this campus were two small reproductions of lithographs. Needless to say, this image did not come near to capturing the essence of this man, his contribution, and his challenges. The lithograph itself captured James Pennington through the white gaze.

While there were no real references for the likeness of Pennington, it was important that his gaze be reflected through the eyes of a black artist. After Jas Knight was selected, we gave him the two copies the lithographs that we had. However, I was amazed to find out that in addition to these, Jas hired a model to sit for him and purchased early-19th century clothing for him to wear. Jas was not interested in replicating the gaze of another but wanted to represent Pennington, with the black body as his subject.

Jas’s meticulous attention to detail and the intentionality of his process went above and beyond and comes through in the finished painting. Placing Pennington’s portrait, here, in the Common Room was also an intentional choice; it is a commitment to our effort, as an institution, to always recognize James Pennington and, with him, to recognize our failure by him. It is to represent him as an equal among any one and every one reflected on the walls of YDS. And it is our commitment to do better by him as we move forward.

Thank you.

October 23, 2018