Visualising Slavery

BookVisualising Slavery

Visualising Slavery

Art Across the African Diaspora

Liverpool Studies in International Slavery, 9


March 1st, 2021



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The purpose of this book is to excavate and recover a wealth of under-examined artworks and research materials directly to interrogate, debate and analyse the tangled skeins undergirding visual representations of transatlantic slavery across the Black diaspora. Living and working on both sides of the Atlantic, as these scholars, curators and practitioners demonstrate, African diasporic artists adopt radical and revisionist practices by which to confront the difficult aesthetic and political realities surrounding the social and cultural legacies let alone national and mythical memories of Transatlantic Slavery and the international Slave Trade. Adopting a comparative perspective, this book investigates the diverse body of works produced by black artists as these contributors come to grips with the ways in which their neglected and repeatedly unexamined similarities and differences bear witness to the existence of an African diasporic visual arts tradition. As in-depth investigations into the diverse resistance strategies at work within these artists’ vast bodies of work testify, theirs is an ongoing fight for the right to art for art’s sake as they challenge mainstream tendencies towards examining their works solely for their sociological and political dimensions. This book adopts a cross- cultural perspective to draw together artists, curators, academics, and public researchers in order to provide an interdisciplinary examination into the eclectic and experimental oeuvre produced by black artists working within the United States, the United Kingdom and across the African diaspora. The overall aim of this book is to re-examine complex yet under-researched theoretical paradigms vis-à-vis the patterns of influence and cross-cultural exchange across both America and a black diasporic visual arts tradition, a vastly neglected field of study.

Notes on Contributors: David Bindman is Emeritus Professor of the History of Art, University College London, Visiting Professor of the History of Art, Harvard University and McMillan Stewart Fellow of the Du Bois Institute, Hutchins Center Harvard University. Eddie Chambers teaches African Diaspora art history in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Texas at Austin. Nathan Grant is associate professor of English at Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri. Lubaina Himid (MBE) is a Professor of Contemporary Art in the School of Art, Design and Performance at the University of Central Lancashire. Roshini Kempadoo is a photographer, media artist, and lecturer. She is a Reader in the School of Arts and Digital Industries at the University of East London. Keith Piper is an artist and academic currently living and working in London. Debra Priestly is a mixed media visual artist exploring themes of memory, ancestry, history and cultural preservation. She holds an MFA from Pratt Institute and a BFA from The Ohio State University. Geoff Quilley is Professor of Art History at the University of Sussex. Alan Rice is Professor in English and American Studies and co-director of the Institute for Black Atlantic Research at the University of Central Lancashire. Fionnghuala Sweeney is Senior Lecturer in American Literature at Newcastle University. Hank Willis Thomas is a photo conceptual artist working primarily with themes related to identity, history and popular culture. He received a BFA in Photography and Africana studies from New York University and his MFA/MA in Photography and Visual Criticism from the California College of Arts. Zoe Trodd is Professor of American Literature in the Department of American and Canadian Studies at the University of Nottingham. Leon Wainwright is Kindler Chair in Global Contemporary Art at Colgate, New York; Reader in Art History at The Open University, UK; and Academic Visitor at the University of Oxford’s Department of History of Art and the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography. Marcus Wood is a painter, performance artist and filmmaker. Since 2003 he has also been Professor of English at the University of Sussex.


'This diverse and finely nuanced collection of essays adds significantly to debates about slavery and visual culture in the Anglophone world. By interweaving new work by the major art-historical scholars in the field with essays by artists whose work reflects upon, and draws creative power from, the trauma of slavery, this book presents a lively new conspectus of an important area of study that has come into its own in recent years. This book rightly refuses to consign slavery safely to the past, but rather insists on its ‘nonsynchronous contemporaneity’. Slavery’s presence, mediated by memory and present through its many legacies, is presented here as a key force in contemporary visual culture – and indeed in culture at large.'
Professor Tim Barringer, Yale University

Author Information

Celeste-Marie Bernier is Professor of United States and Atlantic Studies, University of Edinburgh. Hannah Durkin is Lecturer in Literature and Film, School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics, Newcastle University.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
List of Illustrations9
Introduction: ‘Inside the Invisible’17
Part I Slavery and Memory in Contemporary African Diasporic Art31
Chapter One: Lost and Found at the Swap Meet 33
Chapter Two: Preserves45
Chapter Three: What Goes without Saying50
Chapter Four: Spectres in the Postcolonies64
Chapter Five: Strategic Remembering and Tactical Forgetfulness in Depicting the Plantation78
Part II Historical Iconography and Visualising Transatlantic Slavery95
Chapter Six: The Chattel Record Visualising the Archive in Diasporan Art97
Chapter Seven: Henry Box Brown, African Atlantic Artists and Radical Interventions120
Chapter Eight: Uncle Tom and the Problem of ‘Soft’ Resistance to Slavery135
Chapter Nine: The After-Image Frederick Douglass in Visual Culture145
Part III African Diasporic Monuments and Memorialisation169
Chapter Ten: Siting the Circum-Atlantic Nelson in a Bottle in Trafalgar Square171
Chapter Eleven: Art and Caribbean Slavery184
Chapter Twelve: ‘The Greatest Negro Monuments on Earth’200
Part IV Contemporary Legacies in African Diasporic Art217
Chapter Thirteen: We Might Not Be Surprised219
Chapter Fourteen: ‘X is for X Ray, X Slave, X Colony’234
Chapter Fifteen: Reconfiguring African Trade Beads264
Afterword: Against the Grain290
Notes on Contributors296
Index 308
Image Plates308