‘The Light of Truth Upon Them’: Oil Painting by Indigenous Artist Cynthia Cagle on Display at the Statehouse

“The Light of Truth About Them” by C. Cagle. Oil on canvas, 3’x5′, 2021. Image courtesy.

“The Light of Truth Upon Them,” an oil painting by Xicana artist Cynthia Cagle, will be on display in the Vermont Statehouse’s Map Room from March 8, celebrating International Women’s Day, until March 31 March. Presented by the Vermont State Curator’s Office, the painting was commissioned by the Vermont Suffrage Centennial Alliance to commemorate the vote and the centennial of the 19th Amendment.

South Burlington resident Cynthia Cagle’s work explores the metaphysical relationship between identity and nature. Using her experiences as a biracial woman, Cynthia creates paintings, collages, and murals that explore themes related to biology, relationships, generational trauma, and the impact of colonialism.

Combining the struggles of Indigenous, Black, Latino and Asian peoples, the history of the struggle for the vote dates back well before 1920 and continues today. Cagle’s painting shines a light on the perseverance of those who have stood up – and continue to stand up – in the face of injustice in Vermont and across the country.

As an artist of Indigenous ancestry, Cagle’s art confronts notions of progress. As one group progresses toward independence and self-reliance, often another is left behind, such as Native Americans. His art is a fierce condemnation of quirky freedoms – peeling away the facade of more comfortable notions of equality to expose injustice.

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Six women are featured in Cagle’s painting. Zitkala-Ša, a member of the Yankton Dakota Sioux, advocated for women’s rights in her graduation speech, given at White’s Indiana Manual Labor Institute in 1895.

Before becoming a force in the suffrage movement, Ida B. Wells – born into slavery in Mississippi – documented the horrors of lynching through her courageous journalism. Wells wrote, “The way to right wrongs is to shine the light of truth upon them. She saw the right to vote as inseparable from civil rights and the fight against racism.

Her work was shared by Vermonter Lucy JC Daniels of Grafton, who picketed the White House in 1917 and was arrested, tried, convicted and incarcerated. She also championed black and working-class women to get the vote.

Mabel Ping Hua Lee, the first Chinese woman to earn a doctorate in economics, fought for the right to vote alongside white suffragettes in the early 20th century. However, due to the Chinese Exclusion Law, she herself could not vote until 1943.

These women paved the way for other activists and legislators, including Louvenia Dorsey Bright of Vermont, the state’s first black legislator, elected to the Vermont House in 1988, and Stacey Abrams of Georgia, who continues to fight today to expand access to the vote, regardless of political party, in its work to bring down voter suppression laws.

“The Light of Truth Upon Them” tells the story of the struggle of women – black, indigenous, Asian, Latina and white – to have an equal voice in American democracy. These women, though separated by time and circumstances, represent the unified front of freedom seekers determined to provide everyone, regardless of race, gender or class, with the basic human right to vote. This chronicle is part of Vermont history, and the women of the shores of Lake Champlain, photographed against a backdrop of sunflowers and the Adirondacks, remind us that the history of the struggle to vote is both our heritage and our future.

Due to ongoing COVID restrictions, masks are required in the Vermont Statehouse, and the only entrance is located at the west rear of the building.

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About Catharine C. Bean

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