Category Archives: Black Atlantic Resource Updates

Book Review: Wounds of Returning

We are pleased to announce that a new book review by postgraduate student James West of the University of Manchester has been added to the research section of the Black Atlantic Resource, which takes a look at the 2007 publication Wounds of Returning.

Jessica Adams, Wounds of Returning: Race, Memory and Property on the Postslavery Plantation, 2007 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press)

Wounds of Returning book coverThe author’s description of this study as an ‘eclectic, unconventional plantation tour’ (15-­‐16) probably best surmises Wounds of Returning, a highly original but often frustrating work on the spatial, cultural and ideological legacy of southern plantations since emancipation. Adams builds from a Lockean foundation concerning the connection between property and the individual to argue that race forms an integral part of the relationship between possession, property and personhood in the American south. Using a wide array of cultural and literary artefacts Adams assesses the ways in which plantation culture has been negotiated through film, music, literature and tourism …read more

If you are interested in contribution a book review to the Black Atlantic Resource please contact us.

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Book Review: Human Zoos

A new review by postgraduate research student Emily Trafford of the University of Liverpool’s School of Histories, Languages and Cultures has been added to the research section of the Black Atlantic Resource, which looks at the 2008 publication Human Zoos.

P. Blanchard, N. Bancel, G. Boёtsch, É. Deroo, S. Lemaire, C. Forsdick (eds), Human Zoos: Science and Spectacle in the Age of Colonial Empires, 2008 (Liverpool University Press: Liverpool)

This recent collection of essays on the display of human otherness moves beyond the wave of freak show literature of the 1980s and ‘90s, and seeks to provide a more comprehensive overview of this peculiar exhibitionary practice. The display of the exotic Other for entertainment, education, and supposedly the advancement of scientific knowledge, occurred in numerous guises throughout imperial nations in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The strength of the volume lies in its scope – in terms of time and place, the historical characters and stories that emerge, and the disciplinary approaches that its contributors utilise – all of which make Human Zoos a valuable resource …read more

If you are interested in contributing a book review to the Black Atlantic Resource please contact us.

The Brown Atlantic: Re-thinking Post-Slavery

Lai Fong, The Coolie Ship Avon Under Full Sail, c.1898

Lai Fong, The Coolie Ship Avon Under Full Sail, c.1898
The above ship carried South Asian indentured labourers across the Atlantic to replace the post-Slavery workforce.

The phenomenon of Indenture, which is addressed in the new concept of the Brown Atlantic, is introduced in the first essay in a series of three.  Entitled, ‘The Brown Atlantic: Re-thinking Post-Slavery’, Devi Hardeen’s study will present the interconnection of the Black and Brown Atlantic.

“Following a recent workshop, ‘The French Atlantic: A “Tricoloured” Ocean’, held at the International Slavery Museum (ISM), Liverpool, I was kindly invited to contribute to this ‘Black Atlantic Resource Debate’. One of the rationales of the inter-institutional project at the ISM was to develop greater recognition of Liverpool’s post-Slavery trading past. It is little known that four years after Emancipation, the first ships for South Asian Atlantic Indenture would embark from the city’s ports. The possibility of a site to reflect Liverpool’s continuing post-Slavery role was raised at the workshop. It was discussed that such a site would reflect the historical nexus between the metropole and the country of origin, India, in the legacies of Slavery. In Benjamin Disraeli’s ‘jewel in the crown’, a memorial plaque in Kolkata was inaugurated in January 2011 to commemorate Indenture. The site of museums as an interface between research, academia, and the public that can inform of the events and processes of Atlantic Slavery and its aftermath, led to positive discussions.

“Writing for this website, visitors will note that two years ago, again in partnership with National Museums Liverpool, seminars were held on the subject of ‘Re-thinking Post-slavery [sic] in the Francophone Caribbean’. Addressing that theme, within the scope of this essay, three main arguments will be attempted. In a three-fold approach, this essay will firstly introduce the new concept of the tri-partite ‘Brown Atlantic’. Thereafter, the first dimension of the concept, ‘Past’ will map the phenomenon of South Asian Atlantic Indenture. Thirdly, from this arena, study will focus on the Francophone and Creolophone mid-Atlantic island of Martinique. It will be discussed how we might ‘re-think post-Slavery’ by evaluating the impact of the Brown Atlantic, and by examining possible future avenues of exploration in the post-Slavery Atlantic world. ”

To read Devi Hardeen’s article ‘The Brown Atlantic”Re-thinking Post-Slavery” in full click here.

AUBREY WILLIAMS: ATLANTIC FIRE

Aubrey Williams: Atlantic Fire by Leon Wainwright is now available to read in full at the Black Atlantic Resource:

The paintings of Aubrey Williams are islands of fire that have scorched their way across a range of different stories of art. One story is about the evolution of British painting in the twentieth century. Another is a story about the way in which Caribbean people have struggled and pressed for their freedom and sparked with modern creativity. Yet another story has passages on Britain and Guyana, Jamaica, South America, and the United States, pulling in all those settings around the Atlantic where Aubrey Williams lived and worked, and where he exhibited his art. It is a story about how Williams had an ability to be in several places at once in the history of art. Williams’ legacy is framed within a brilliant composite of narratives; and there his art works have remained, smouldering continually, their heat slowly building. His life story and his art cannot be located in a simple geography, either physical or cultural. Williams painted with fire, and the path that he cut is a hard one to follow…

To view the full article at the Black Atlantic Resource now click here

To view Aubrey Williams’ artist page at the October Gallery, with images exhibited at the Atlantic Fire exhibition click here

Leon Wainwright, ‘Aubrey Williams: Atlantic Fire’, in Reyahn King ed., 2010 Aubrey Williams: Atlantic Fire National Museums Liverpool and October Gallery, London, pp. 46-55. ISBN: 978-1-899542-30-7. Exhibition catalogue essay. Republished here with permission of the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool and The October Gallery, London.

New Provincialisms: Curating Art of the African Diaspora

La Fantasie Art Project (by caribbeanfreephoto via flickr)

New Provincialisms: Curating Art of the African Diaspora by Leon Wainwright is now available to read in full at the Black Atlantic Resource:

Over the past decade there have been various curatorial attempts to assemble and understand the art of the African diaspora and to offer a more global sense of the histories from which such works emerge. The diaspora concept once promised fresh possibilities for imagining community beyond the nation; however, its internationalist emphasis has given way to a provincializing attitude grounded in United States – centered experiences.

When art exhibitions are designed to mobilize the African diaspora and to reverse its traditional exclusion from art history and public memory, it is less clear whether such designs also prove capable of reversing the direction of this new provincialism. And yet, while the otherwise international relevance of the diaspora analytic has become susceptible to political and social priorities with a locus in the United States, much can be gained from interrogating the ways in which this locus generates new “margins” and “centers” in the world of art and blackness.

To view the full article at the Black Atlantic Resource now click here.

[First published in Radical History Review, Issue 103 (Winter 2009) pp. 203-213: http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.1215/01636545-2008-041]

Curatorial Intensive in the City of Brotherly Love

Philadelphia Skyline via Wikimedia Commons

On Friday, May 6 MoCADA’s Curatorial Fellows embarked on a Curatorial Intensive to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. So here is their latest post filling you in on the experiences of that day…

MoCADA’s Director of Exhibitions, Kalia Brooks and Director of Education, Ruby Amanze, both of whom hail from the city of brotherly love, planned a 12 hour day of studio visits, meetings with arts professionals, and trips to local arts and African Diaspora institutions. Throughout the day central themes and framing questions emerged. First, what is the artistic and political value of collecting? To what extent can curating serve as a political intervention into a space? What role does technology play in emerging curatorial practices? And finally, what are the political implications of distinguishing between art spaces and ethnically specific cultural institutions?

The day began with a studio visit with photographer and musician Bianka Brunson and visual artist Lorna Williams. Both women’s works express interest in collecting and creating curated space, whether it be made up of physical objects, sounds, or experiences. Brunson, whose music and photography are in constant interplay, creates abstract works that bridge natural elements with human-made sounds/structures through both mediums. Brunson makes her way throughout the Philadelphia music scene, playing DJ sets and riffing off of the energy of the crowds …Read more

Williams presented a large scale mixed-media sculptural piece entitled birth-right, currently on view at the Maryland Institute College of Art where she is completing her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Williams explained that the piece is extremely personal …Read more

Brunson and Williams’ artistic interest in purposefully constructed space is mirrored in the character of their shared quarters. The two women live and work in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood in a sunny loft filled with plants, books and collected objects. A large altar stands erect in the corner of the main room and a number of guitars hang from the walls as usable art …Read more

Immediately following the studio visit with Brunson and Williams, the Curatorial Fellows and staff traveled to the Temple University campus to visit the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection. The Blockson Collection is housed in a large room filled with glass cases of rare books, sculptures, paintings and memorabilia that tell a history of Philadelphia, Afro-America and a wider African past …Read more

Spending time with the materials and speaking with the staff raised questions about the importance of collecting as a means for documenting histories of marginalized groups. Blockson’s collection holds monumental weight as one of the primary depositories for historical items related to Black experience in the United States and abroad. Similar to Lorna Williams’ birth-right, and the Kensington loft, the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection uses objects to tell a specific story that is at once personal, ancestral and political. However, Williams’ and Brunson’s art and loft are read as subjective …Read more

This issue of curatorial practice as a tool for disrupting a dominant narrative was further complicated during the group’s visit to an unconventional art space, Eastern State Penitentiary. According to the institution’s promotional materials, Eastern State is described as, “The world’s first true penitentiary, a prison designed to inspire patience — or true regret — in the hearts of criminals.” Eastern State was active for 142 years, but today the prison is a tourist attraction. Eastern State has a site-specific installation art program, where the penitentiary invites artists to install works within the prison walls. One of the featured installations is a video work entitled Beware the Lily Law by artist Michelle Handelman. Handleman’s installation was undoubtedly a radical intervention into the space. She developed and projected a series of three monologues based on the experiences of gay and transgendered prison inmates on the wall of one of the prison’s cells …Read more

Later that day, the group was greeted by Richard Watson, Curator of Exhibitions at the African American Museum in Philadelphia (AAMP). AAMP is in the heart of Philadelphia’s downtown district, and serves mainly as a historical and cultural museum. Watson led a guided tour of the museum’s current exhibitions and discussed AAMP’s new direction. He explained that the use of technology is at the core of AAMP’s current exhibitions model …Read more

The Curatorial Intensive illuminated new perspectives on collecting, the use of technology and the political potential of curatorial interventions in dominant spaces. These common threads tied the day’s itinerary together, connecting institutions and individuals that at first glance may seem entirely unrelated.

Contributed by:
Isissa Komada-John, Curatorial Fellow

To read the full version of this post click here

Shifting Boundaries: The Semantic Promiscuity of Blackness

What does it mean to shift boundaries? The panelists at the Eighth Annual American Art History Graduate Student Symposium at Yale University explored strategies of deconstructing the subject matter of “Black Art” through critical interpretation.  Each student was examining “Black Art” from the perspective of American Art discourse. The discussions ranged from comparing the physical architectural structures of African American and African Diasporan museums to redefining the position of black artists place in the context of art history …read more

One of the panelists, Katherine Jentelson presented  the work of William Edmondson in the framework of his agency being defined according to institutional agendas. He was a sculptor, grave stone artist, and the first African American  artist to have a solo exhibition at the MoMA in the 1930s.  The show at MoMA was marketed with the phrase “a Negro Shows art in the Modern Museum” in Time magazine.  One of Jentelson’s main  polemics was the way Edmonson was characterised and manufactured by a “White Supremacist institution,” as she calls it …read more

Much like Jentelson, Joanna Fiduccia also discussed the reframing of a black artist’s work. She presented an intriguing  analysis of William Pope L.’s public performances. Her presentation posited that Pope L.’s work could be framed in the context of land art. The main works which she examined were his self burial piece and William Pope L.’s crawling performances.  She said that Pope L. “opens up space and democratizes it”. The masochistic nature of the crawls can be seen as a means of ‘obliterating the body’ which was compared to the racist practice of lynching in which, once obliterated, the body becomes integrated into the landscape …read more

The keynote speaker was Northwestern University Professor and Harvard University WEB Dubois Institute for African African American Research Fellow, Huey Copeland, discussing his book entitled, Bound To Appear. His book  discusses the work of Renee Green, Lorna Simpson, Glenn Ligon and Fred Wilson. He asserts that these artists are architects of the what Copeland termed the “lingua franca” of black political dissent in in the form of installation art. Each of the artists integrated text, objects, and other elements such as sound to establish connections to ideas of race and agency indirectly referencing the issues of the time, for example, LA riots, Rodney King, police brutality …read more

The Symposium managed to address some relevant questions and simultaneously prove to be problematic. The  shifting boundaries seemed to be moving towards a new era of ubiquitous historical revisionism. Are boundaries shifting to a place where there can be an accessible discourse on black art where the normative group can avoid the paternalistic pitfalls of the past? It is doubtful.

To read the full version of this post click here

Contributed by: Jabari Owens-Bailey, Curatorial Fellow