BLACKNESS IN THE PUBLIC SPHERE: A DARK ROOM ROUNDTABLE at the Black Portraitures II Conference in Florence was as great as we all expected. The featured members of  The Dark Room: Race and Visual Culture Faculty Seminar (@raceandvisual) did not disappoint! Kimberly Juanita Brown (Mt. Holyoke), Sandy Alexandre (MIT), Dell Hamilton (Harvard), and Christina Sharpe (Tufts) gave all of us so much to process. Once you begin a session with Dr. Alexandre playing Zebra Katz’s single “Ima Read” (2012), featuring Njena Reddd Foxxx, you know you’re in for a ride! I may be biased as a member of The Dark Room, but this was my favorite panel of the weekend (besides my own). This was one of many #blackgirlmagic moments throughout the weekend. (I’ll have more to say about how much black girls rock in my next post.)

BLACKNESS IN THE PUBLIC SPHERE: A DARK ROOM ROUNDTABLE (adapted from the conference proceedings): This panel engaged blackness in the public sphere as a production of contingent negotiations: history, temporality, visuality, language, and corporeality. In this roundtable featuring members of the Dark Room: Race and Visual Culture Studies Seminar, each speaker not only highlighted a particular aspect of the imagery of blackness as a function of the public sphere, but also considered both the aesthetic and sociopolitical implications of that public appearance. Taken together, the papers demonstrated their writers’ concerted commitment to examining one important question: What are the uses and misuses of blackness in the public sphere, and what work might analysis do in the service of stanching the tide of its appropriation and misappropriation?

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Sandy Alexandre: “Black and Read All Over: Hypervisibled People,” was at once a riff on and a modern-day attempt at expanding the important conversation about race and visuality in America that Ellison’s Invisible Man initiated a little over sixty years ago. Consequently, the theoretical exercise of my paper is prompted by two 21st-century moments: Zebra Katz’s single “Ima Read” (2012), featuring Njena Reddd Foxxx, and a line from Claudia Rankine’s most recent book Citizen: An American Lyric (2014). ), which reads as follows: “Language that feels hurtful is intended to exploit all the ways that you are present.” What work, if any, does the hurtful, yet often intentionally humorous language associated with “throwing shade”—of “reading and proofreading” fellow black people—do to relieve the daily stresses of being discernible and therefore susceptible to being labeled, described, and depicted? In other words does the wit and imaginativeness of such exploitive and hurtful language actually help deflect attention away from the person being subjected to a read? Conversely, when does the humbling or chastening intention of “a read” become a crippling? What, if anything, is the antidote to being returned to your body—returned to your physical presence—via disparaging language? Can anything, in the realm of language or beyond it, successfully fend off such a detailed description of your person?

Kimberly Juanita Brown, “Erykah Badu’s Ambulatory Acts”: In the 2010 music video for her song Window Seat, Erykah Badu uses the layers, the historical resonance, and the site-specific invocation of her native Dallas, Texas in order to locate her black female body against the public encroachments of race and gender. Endeavoring to possess the spectacle of her own flesh as a creative negotiation of meaning-making, Badu inhabits the path around Dealey Plaza, the location of John F. Kennedy’s assassination (grassy knoll and all) in order to reclaim her visibility and the import of her body’s utility in a fluid moving frame. Though it will eventually enter the public sphere as evidence of her transgression (the video is used by police in order to charge her later with disorderly conduct), the video as it stands is the performative engagement of a black artist entering the landscape in order to dismantle some of the power located there.

Dell Hamilton, “Trouble My Water: Public and Private Actions of Self-Performance”: This talk highlighted Hamilton’s art practice and how she regularly deploys her own body and personal memories to engage with the aftermath of trauma and its implications for understanding race, identity, gender, and citizenship. Also included in this discussion is a brief look at the work of several contemporary artists and scholars who critically influence the ongoing research and development of her work. Ultimately, she views her projects as vehicles of adaptation and re-invention that thoughtfully interrogate notions of the public and personal. As a result, these re-imagined spaces serve as fruitful sites for negotiating and examining the role of art and its socio-political relationship to power, belonging, and loss.

Christina Sharpe, “Black Lives: Annotated” Christina Sharpe relayed the demands of and on blackness’s circulations in public spheres. If portraiture is both the “art of creating portraits” and “graphic and detailed description,” how are desires to be seen and to participate in image making attempts to not accede to the deathly demands of the anti-black worlds in which we live and work and struggle to make visible all kinds of Black futures.

The Dark Room is coming…to Wellesley College on Saturday, April 11

Third Exposure SymposiumTHIRD EXPOSURE~THE DARK ROOM: RACE & VISUAL 3RD ANNUAL SYMPOSIUM on Saturday, April 11 at Wellesley College. Free and Open to the Public. See below for the full schedule.

The Dark Room: Race and Visual Culture Studies Seminar is an extended conversation concerning the intersection of critical race theory and visual culture studies. With over 40 members from 24 North American colleges and universities, we are a group of regional and institutional variety, made up of several different disciplines and departments and different professional ranks. We meet once a month during the academic year to consider the import of recent published works heavily invested in the interstices of visualities rendered through the lens of race and empire. Third Exposure is just that, our third foray into a collective intellectual engagement of this kind. #3rdExp

Email: | Twitter: @raceandvisual

Program Schedule

8:30      Registration    Collins Cinema

9:00     Welcome         

Nikki A. Greene, Assistant Professor of Art, Wellesley College


Andrew Shennan, Provost and Dean of the College, Wellesley College

 9:20-10:45 Black Lives Matter

 #AllHandsonDeck: Protest & Art/Work in the 21st Century

Olubukola Gbadegesin, Assistant Professor of Art History, Saint Louis University

 Eyes Without a Face: Inducing Compunction

Sandy Alexandre, Associate Professor of Literature, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

For The Record: Black Women, Police Violence, and The Politics of Image Making

Courtney Marshall, Assistant Professor of English & Women’s Studies, University of New Hampshire

Moderator: Sarah Jackson, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies, Northeastern University

10:45-11:00  Break for light refreshments in Collins Café

11:00-12:30  Enter the Corporeal

 Black Embodiment in 18th Century British Culture

Nicole N. Aljoe, Associate Professor of English, Northeastern University

 “Most Wonderfully Made”: The Curious Performances of Millie-Christine McKoy

Nicole Ivy, Postdoctoral Fellow Center for Research on Race and Ethnicity in Society Visiting Assistant Professor of History, Indiana University

Black Feminist THOT: Dance as Visual Culture

Jasmine Elizabeth Johnson, Assistant Professor of African American Studies, Brandeis University

 On the Perils of Ephemeral Performance Art

Samantha Noel, Assistant Professor of Art, Wayne State University

Moderator: Moya Bailey, Postdoctoral Fellow in Women’s and Gender & Sexuality Studies & the NU Lab for Digital Humanities, Northeastern University

11:00-12:30 The Politics of Location

Fifty Years Later: Revisiting Bowdoin College’s 1964 Exhibition, The Negro in American Painting

Dana E. Byrd, Assistant Professor of Art History, Bowdoin College

“When I see this image, I see myself”: Teachers Explore Race Through Kara Walker’s Post-Katrina Adrift

Folashade Cromwell, Visiting Assistant Professor of Education, Framingham State University

Palm Trees and Billboards: Navigating the Tropics in Art and Anthropology

Lara Stein Pardo, Faculty Fellow in the Warren Center for the Humanities, Vanderbilt University

Moderator: Courtney J. Martin, Assistant Professor of History of Art and Architecture, Brown University

 12:30-2:00         Lunch on your own

Harambee House Lunch for speakers and invited students

 2:00-3:15           Keynote Address

Coco Fusco, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MLK Visiting Scholar

Dangerous Moves: Performance and Politics in Cuba

Introduction: Elena Creef, Professor of Women’s and Gender’s Studies, Wellesley College

 3:15-4:15           Davis Museum Self-guided | Student Gallery Talks

4:15-4:30           Break for Light Refreshments in Collins Café

 4:30-6:00           Into the Light: Dark Room Members’ Publications

Nursing Civil Rights: Gender and Race in the Army Nurse Corps (University of Illinois Press, 2015)

Charissa J. Threat, Assistant Professor of History, Spelman College

Oshun’s Daughters: The Search for Womanhood in the Americas (SUNY Press, 2014)

Vanessa Valdés, Associate Professor of Spanish and Portuguese. The City College of New York

 Domestic Disturbances: Re-Imagining Narratives of Gender, Labor, and Immigration (University of Texas Press, 2014)

Irene Mata, Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender’s Studies, Wellesley College

South Side Girls: Growing Up in the Great Migration (Duke University Press, 2015)

Marcia Chatelain, Assistant Professor of History, Georgetown University

Moderator: Kimberly Juanita Brown, Visiting Assistant Professor of Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, Harvard University

Concluding Remarks Faith Smith, Assoc. Professor of African and Afro-American Studies and English, Brandeis University

6:00-7:00           Reception in the Davis Museum Lobby

Book table with Dark Room Members’ publications.

Co-sponsored by The Eleanor Edwards Fund, Newhouse Center for the Humanities, Partnerships for Diversity and Inclusion, McNeil Program for the Study of American Art, Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program, Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Wellesley Centers for Women, Writing Program, and the Office of the Advisor to Latina Students

Academic Programs: Africana Studies, American Studies, Art, Cinema & Media Studies, English, History, Peace & Justice Studies and Women’s & Gender Studies.

FEMINISMS UNBOUND @ MIT – The Dark Room: Race and Gender in the Visual Archive – Feb. 11

The Graduate Consortium of Women’s Studies series “Feminisms Unbound” continues at MIT on February 11 featuring members of The Dark Room: Race and Visual Culture Faculty Seminar: Irene Mata (Wellesley College), Sandy Alexandre (MIT), Marcia Chatelain (Georgetown University), and moderator/co-organizer Kimberly Juanita Brown (Brown University). I’ll talk specifically about Kara Walker’s A Subtlety, the sugar installation at the Domino Factory in Brooklyn from last summer. Join us!

Mammy in waiting
Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety…”(July 2014).  Photo by Nikki A. Greene.
The Dark Room: Race and Gender in the Visual Archive
Wednesday, February 11th: 5:30 – 7:30 PM
Location: The Moore Room, Building 6 Room 321

In the intellectual tributary that is critical race theory, all is connected.  Whether the task is elucidating the gendered trajectory of imperialism and violence in the United States, examining indigenous art forms in Latin America, or probing the interstices of Caribbean cultural production in the 20th century, critical race theorists have always engaged the world of the visual.  Bringing together scholars invested in the work of critical race studies as visual culture offers a unique vantage point through which to imagine the future of visual culture studies. The Dark Room is an interdisciplinary working group of scholars interested in theories of visuality and theories of racial formation.   In this roundtable each feminist scholar will select an image and interpret it in relation to its archive.

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