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Title: Narrating blackness : studies in femininity, sexuality and race in European and American art of the nineteenth-century
Author: Nelson, Charmaine Andrea
ISNI:       0000 0004 2706 4776
Awarding Body: The University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2001
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This dissertation is an exploration of the representation of black female subjects within American and European art of the nineteenth century. The popularity of Cleopatra among artists and specifically her nineteenth-century re-incarnation as a black woman, has been used as a starting point for an examination of abolitionist visual discourse and for the examination of the (im)possibility of the black female subject within western visual culture generally. The period of study includes a time of great change and upheaval in the social, symbolic and legal status of the black body, marking the shift from Trans Atlantic Slavery through abolitionism to Emancipation - which is also the transition from the enslaved to the "liberated" black body. I have chosen to focus upon neoclassical sculpture in order to explore its aesthetic and material specificity which, privileging white marble, disavowed the signification of race at the level of skin/complexion. Within neoclassicism, racial disavowal was also registered at the level of subject, symbolism and narrative where the white fear and rejection of the so-called full-blooded negro type resulted in the prevalence of the white-negro body of the inter-racial female -a miscegenated body that in its proximity to whiteness both alleviated and (em)bodied the cross-racial contact which colonial logic most abhorred. But my choices are also informed by my desire to interrogate neoclassicism's investment in the racial differencing of bodies and its relatedness to the biological construction of race within nineteenth-century human sciences. Both fields were dependant upon the paradigmatic status of the white male body as the unquestioned apex of an hierarchical arrangement of racial types and the authority of vision as a supposedly objective tool of physical observation and differentiation. Neoclassical objects have been contextualized by sculpture of other media, specifically polychromy, as well as painting and other popular cultural objects to demonstrate the representational limits and subjective possibilities of specific art forms. These different styles and types of art were governed by different material and aesthetic requirements and practices which engendered different processes of viewing. However, this is not only an exploration of identity and identification of the represented subject, but also an inquiry into how the identity of the artists/producers and viewers impacts their representation and consumption of "other" bodies. This dissertation is an intervention into the hegemonic practice of western culture which challenges the traditional disciplinarity of art history by insisting upon the importance of race to cultural practice. Using post-colonial and feminist rereadings of Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis which can account for both the material and the psychic, I have theorized the process through which racial identification is achieved, locating culture as a colonial field where identifications are produced, secured and deployed. The significance of a black feminist agenda is the fundamental belief in the inseparability of sex and gender identifications from race and colour in any-body, as well as an attentiveness to the multiplicity and simultaneity of marginalization. Ultimately, I am questioning the extent to which an identification is registered not only in the object of representation, but occurs within the process of viewing.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available