ISBN 13: 9781438428826
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Event Creator:. Louis, Missouri. Can we ever be released if white people are looking?
The idea seemed somewhat fantastic: could an artist whose work circulated in spaces owned and dominated by whiteness and white money not only show black people released from their gazes but extend that courtesy outward from the work to black audiences? The grayscale and background make this African American man somewhat outside of time and space, a privilege denied black people so often defined by the discriminatory conditions of various historical moments. Both within and somewhat outside of the solid beige color, he is an individual when black people are so often understood by typologies. The flag and cowboy hat—a clothing choice she added—make him an atypical visual representation of African American manhood.
To be released from the gaze, then, might sometimes mean a release from racialized regulatory gazes that assault black bodies to different degrees on multiple fronts.
What language can define the experience and affect of black rest—which we should take to be not a luxury but a physical requirement for survival? Perhaps Sherald offers some alternative vocabulary. At the end of her talk, a white male audience member stated—after she had already discussed how her portraits should be understood—that she needed to explain again that painting black subjects was an intervention in the history of western painting in response to Obama portrait critics.
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Rest might encompass one kind of freedom that many of us can grasp, if we can recognize the promise offered by the fantastic frontier of black restfulness, and the radicalness of release. Abjection is often a principal sign of these characters' precarity—they inhabit spaces where they often recoil from others and vice versa, and their constant association with that which is considered gross like dirt, vomit, and feces is habitually a sign of what emotional and economic insecurity has wrought. However, race makes a critical difference in the treatment of abjection in these two shows. While Girls is a study in the classic psychoanalytic account of abjection, often depicting its protagonist as a dehumanized object full of disappointed drives, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl humorously blends the historical weight of black abjection with other kinds of abjection, so that the abjection its protagonist uses to define herself is not one determined by the history of white supremacy.
These programs hinge on immobility as a mode of being. Depicting female subjects who will never entirely escape abjection, these shows also highlight racial and class-based differences in the embrace of not only this twenty-first-century form of comedy but also in modes of self-fashioning in neoliberal times.
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The Suffering Will Not Be Televised
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