Feelin Feminism: Black Women's Art as Feminist Thought

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This dissertation contends that the systems of racism, (hetero)sexism, and classism are felt in the body, mind, and spirit and that resistance to these systems must be felt as well. Feelin, a term rooted in U.S. Black culture and derived from Black speech (as in "I'm feelin that!"), is deployed as a way of knowing through which Black women engage and create life-affirming art. I argue for understanding black women's creative production as a site of Black feminist thought, one that continuously negotiates, shares and acknowledges emotion as a form of knowledge that, in Audre Lorde's terms, galvanizes radical thought into "more tangible action."

In this project I negotiate these issues through close reading and analysis of the work of three artists: photographer Renee Cox, poet Lucille Clifton, musician AverySunshine. In Cox's photography I examine the ways in which she re-imagines racial shaming and Black motherhood through her own body and mothering practice as represented in her work. Through Clifton's words, poetry, and spiritual and creative practice, I trace a theology of joy. And, I analyze expressions of sacro-sexual ecstasy in AverySunshine's genre ambivalent music. These themes of shame, joy, and ecstasy are prominent not only in the work itself, but also in the artists' experiences of creating that work and in the artists' discussions of their work and worldview. Feminist scholarship and affect theory frame my engagements with feelings and emotions as knowledge.

Finally, I propose a methodology for engaging Black women's knowledge production that mandates that we take Black women's anger seriously and interrogate from there. This project practices the modes of knowledge production that it presents. Furthering its argument that Black women's art is a site of feminist knowledge production, research is conducted and presented through poetry, mixed media, and personal narrative in addition to academic research methods and prose.