History of Art pres.
African Diasporic Modernism: Tropicality in the Works of Wifredo Lam and Josephine Baker
Samantha Noël, Wayne Statue University
Summary: This talk explores aspects of my book, Tropical Aesthetics of Black Modernism (Duke University Press, February 2021). It offers an investigation of how Caribbean and American artists of the early twentieth century were responding to the colonial and hegemonic regimes through visual and performative tropicalist representation. It privileges the land and how a sense of place is critical in the identity formation of early twentieth-century artists as well as their creative processes. By proposing an alternative understanding of the tropics, this talk demonstrates how Wifredo Lam and Josephine Baker effectively contributed to the development of Black modernity, and even Black sonic modernity. They employed what I call “tropical aesthetics” in an effort to enact the naming of place. Tropical aesthetics allows for a critical imaging and reclaiming of space and proves how through art one can reify social geographies in order to have a sense of place, a rootedness that is desired in order to attain some semblance of sovereignty.
Bio: Samantha A. Noël is an Associate Professor of Art History at Wayne State University. She received her B.A. in Fine Art from Brooklyn College, C.U.N.Y., and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Art History from Duke University. Her research interests revolve around the history of art, visual culture and performance of the Black Diaspora. She has published on black modern and contemporary art and performance in journals such as Small Axe, Third Text, and Art Journal. Noël’s book, Tropical Aesthetics of Black Modernism (Duke University Press, forthcoming 2021), offers a thorough investigation of how Caribbean and American artists of the early twentieth century were responding to colonial and hegemonic regimes through visual and performative tropicalist representation. It privileges the land and how a sense of place is critical in the identity formation of early twentieth-century artists as well as their creative processes. Noël is working on a new book tentatively titled Diasporic Art in the Age of Black Power. This book seeks to examine the impact of the Black Power Movement on visual art as it emerged in the political, historical, and social contexts of the United States of America and the Anglophone Caribbean in the 1960s and 1970s. Currently, Noël is the 2020-2021 Leonard A. Lauder Visiting Senior Fellow at The Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art. Her research has also been supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Moreau Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Notre Dame. Noël has also received a number of grants and fellowships from Wayne State University.
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