Beauty, Power, and Liminality: A conversation on Black Beauty movements from the Lecture Series Beauty and the Black Body

To be misrepresented, one’s image is falsified, distorted, warped, loaded, and perverted.  How does that image get corrected, when is one represented? On Saturday February 19, Rutgers University Newark addressed just these questions at The 31st Anniversary of The Marion Thompson Wright Lecture Series Beauty and the Black Body: history, aesthetics and politics. Through five lecturers, a range of historical and contemporary images of African Americans where analyzed showcasing how African Americans re-represented themselves through beauty-focused themes. The opening of Posing Beauty at Newark Museum followed the symposium, leading to a full day of critical appreciation of the portrait in photography by Black Americans.

The curator of the exhibition, Deborah Willis started the symposium by posing the question that has been addressed in her research, “Are you essentializing blackness?” To this, Willis explains that her research as exemplified in the exhibition, and book of the same name, Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present (New York 2009) aims to examine those historical/iconic images that depicted the black body. For Willis and the other scholars, it is important to read the stories behind those images. And that is precisely what Willis does.

To view a full version of this post including discussion of images of the ‘Hottentot Venus’ and  Madame C J Walker, and issues raised by speakers: Richard Powell, Maxine Craig, and Tiffany Gill click here.

Contributed by: Zemen Kidane

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