The Black Body in Political Photography, 1990-2020

dc.contributor.advisorParry-Giles, Dr. Shawnen_US
dc.contributor.authorSharma, Artesha Chardonnayen_US
dc.contributor.publisherDigital Repository at the University of Marylanden_US
dc.contributor.publisherUniversity of Maryland (College Park, Md.)en_US
dc.description.abstractBlack political art has been an important element of Black liberation efforts in the 20th and 21st centuries. Black artist-activists of the past and present have demonstrated a concern with systems of oppression that perpetuate multiple forms of racial trauma in the lives of Black people. This project examines the various strategies deployed by artist-activists between 1990-2020 to re-instantiate political trauma in U.S. collective memory. In the process, the project spotlights continued oppression by visually connecting past atrocities with current forms of physical, emotional, and representational violence and examines artists’ depictions of the Black body to remember racial trauma and visualize Black agency. In Chapter One, I examine Carla Williams’s How to Read Character (1990-1991) and the ways she revisits the history of scientific racism to expose strategies used to predetermine character based on race. Williams uses her nude body as a means to critique by positioning her self-portraits next to early scientific documents to evoke Black agency and to subvert the dominant gaze that has contributed to Black subjugation of the past and present. In Chapter Two, I examine how the photo-text installation series by Carrie Mae Weems, From Here I Saw What Happened and Then I Cried (1995-1996), intervenes in the circulation of archival images of the Black body to contemplate and challenge past and current notions of Black embodiment across race, gender, class, and sexuality. In the process, Weems re-politicizes historical and contemporary representations of Blackness and collective remembrances of Black trauma to call for retribution and healing. In Chapter Three, I interpret how Julian Plowden’s Project #Shootback (2014-2020), offers a haunting reminder of the continued racial inequalities through political street photography of the Black Lives Matter movement. Drawing from collective memories of earlier Black liberation movements, the collection situates Black Lives Matter within a legacy of Black activism committed to ending inequalities faced by Black people. Plowden ultimately re-politicizes Black emotion and Black embodiment as a means to resist racial oppression, survive racial trauma, and expose ongoing atrocities. In the Conclusion, I analyze LaToya Ruby Frazier’s photographic exposé on the life and memory of Breonna Taylor featured in Vanity Fair’s, “A Beautiful Life.” I argue that the emotional photography of Taylor’s loved ones pushes back against negative stereotypes about Taylor and Black women to assert Black worth and visualize the suffering that police brutality causes to the Black community. Situated within the context of continued racial tension, the images in this project demonstrate the multiple strategies of resistance and empowerment used by contemporary artist-activists in the U.S. to expose and end racial injustice. Overall, the images highlight the continued importance of photography in the current fight for Black liberation.en_US
dc.subject.pqcontrolledAfrican American studiesen_US
dc.subject.pquncontrolledPolitical photographyen_US
dc.subject.pquncontrolledThe Black bodyen_US
dc.subject.pquncontrolledVisual rhetoricen_US
dc.titleThe Black Body in Political Photography, 1990-2020en_US


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