reading & research
January / February 2021
Stuart Hall Cultural Identity and Cinematic Representation
1) Page 706, second paragraph:
“Cultural Identity… is a matter of ‘becoming’ as well as of ‘being.’ ...far from being eternally fixed in some essentialized past, [cultural identities] are subject to the continuous ‘play’ of history, culture, and power.”
In what ways does the art industry (galleries and museums) “essentialize” - and therefore oversimplify - cultural identities? Are there ways in which institutions can (or perhaps already do?) contend with the layered aspects of cultural identities in a way that imagines viable futures for non-white people?
2) On page 710, towards the bottom, Hall writes:
“We must not collude with the West which, precisely, ‘normalizes’ and appropriates Africa by freezing it into some timeless zone of the ‘primitive, unchanging past.’”
For many arts workers, we are taught a racist art history. In what ways are depictions of the past used to further a white supremacist historical narrative?
3) At the top of page 709, Hall introduces a framework to understand Caribbean cultural identity: Presence Africaine, Presence Europeanne, and Presence American.
The, on page 711, he says of the European Presence:
“…the European Presence is that which, in visual representation, has positioned [Caribbean people] within its dominant regimes of representation: the colonial discourse, the literatures of adventure and exploration, the romance of the exotic, the ethnographic and traveling eye, the tropical languages of tourism, travel brochure and Hollywood and the violent pornogroahic languages of ganja and urban violence.”
While the art industry prides itself on its globalism (and therefore its diversity) how does it also produce and perpetuate a ‘European Presence’ as described by Hall?
On page 117 hooks refers to film and television in the US as a “system of knowledge and power reproducing and maintaining white supremacy.” Is there media (or art) that does not reinforce white supremacy? What are some examples?
On page 116, hooks describes the (Black, female) oppositional gaze as “courageously looking, [defiantly declaring]: “Not only will I stare. I want my look to change reality.” In what ways does the ‘oppositional gaze’ combat the dominant white supremacist systems enforced by the art industry? When is the oppositional gaze present in galleries / museums? (is it present at all?)
On page 130, hooks describes a scene in the film Passion of Remembrance by Maureen Blackwood & Isaac Julien where two characters “display their bodies not for a voyeuristic colonizing gaze but for that look of recognition that affirms their subjectivity…” “...these scenes invite the audience to look differently.” Where does art exist without the colonizing gaze?
Bodies in the System by Vanessa Agard-Jones
Students and Artists United for a Martin Luther King Jr. Wing for Black and Puerto Rican Art at the Museum of Modern art for the city of New York by Faith Ringgold as part of Open Hearing, the first public meeting of the Arts Workers Coalition, held at School of Visual Arts on April 10th, 1969
(pages 71-73 of PDF)
1. What is the importance of understanding individual agency when part of anti-racist work is naming the systems of white supremacy that forcibly remove individual agency from non-white people? What are some exmaples of these systems within the art industry?
2. How does Agard-Jones's extension of Trouillot's "microlevel" analysis to bodies add nuance to Trouillot's approach to individual agency? How can Agard-Jones's approach to agency ("[bodies contain] multiple forms of agency and [bear] the traces of multiple forms of power.") be applied to anti-racist work?
3. What are potential sites of microlevel analysis that better help us understand exploitation and anti-Blackness in the art industry beyond or own labor spaces?
4. a) In what ways do museums feel threatened today? Museums have certainly adopted the language and performance of appearing more inclusive in the art they choose to display. It's worth noting that even the documents of the Art Workers Coalition were displayed at MoMA PS1 in 2008.
b) In 1969, as part of the Art Workers Coalition Open Hearing, Faith Ringgold asked the Museum of Modern Art, "in what way does the Museum feel threatened by the existence of a Martin Luther King Jr. Wing for Black and Puerto Rican Art?"
c) However, protests at museums reamin consistent, for good reason. Who and what are these protests addressing? In what ways have these protests shifted from concerns surrounding representation to more material concerns surrounding systemic anti-Blackness?
NYC community organizations / mutual aid
Equality for Flatbush; Brooklyn, New York
Black Feminist Project; New York City
Black Trans Travel Fund; New York City
Emergency Release Fund; New York City
F2L Relief Fund; New York State
Vocal New York; New York State
Princess Janae Place; New York City
COVID-19 Bail Out NYC; New York City
MEETING 2: THURSDAY AUGUST 27th, 2020 7:30pm EST
Subject: Whiteness as Property continued
Meeting Advisor: Darla Migan
Assigned text and video:
-SAY IT LOUD (I’m Black and I’m Proud) - online exhibition at Christie's Auction House
(and if you haven't read it yet)
Reflections on Whiteness as Property by Dr. Cheryl I. Harris
The New Exclusionism by Lowery Sims
Meeting Advisor: Darla Migan
Meeting Date: Wed. June 24th, 2020 7:30pm
Session 1 - Cheryl Harris, “Whiteness as Property” (1993)
Assigned Selections from Whiteness as Property w/Page Numbers (but reading the full text is recommended)
I. Introduction (p.1709-1715)
II. The Construction of Race and the Emergence of Whiteness as Property
A. Forms of Racialized Property: Relationships Between Slavery, Race, and Property
1. The Convergence of Racial and Legal Status (p.1715-1718)
C. Critical Characteristics of Property and Whiteness
4. The Property Functions of Whiteness
(b) Right to Use and Enjoyment (p.1734)
(c) Reputation and Status Property (p.1734-1736)
(d) The Absolute Right to Exclude (p.1736-1737)
D. White Legal Identity: The Law’s Acceptance and Legitimation of Whiteness as Property
1. Whiteness as Racialized Privilege (p.1741- 1743)
2. Whiteness, Rights, and National Identity (p.1745)
IV. The Persistence of Whiteness as Property
A. The Persistence of Whiteness as a Valued Social Identity (p.1758-1761)
Summary of Selections from Text
Whiteness, perhaps, is better understood as describing relations of power with a variety of both stable and newly appearing characteristics and goods attached to it. Whiteness may, perhaps, be most recognizable through a vast set of activities including but not limited to the activities of domination, subordination, and exclusion. In Cheryl Harris’s article “Whiteness as Property,” she argues that the idea of Whiteness has been developed through the activities of conquest and ongoing genocide of indigenous peoples that worked to bring about the anti-Black racist nation-state. On Harris’s reading: the state, regardless of the political party in power, protects its materially-mediated understanding of itself as functioning in the service of Whiteness and does so at all costs through the deployment of the paradigm of property. As Harris notes in her 2014 reflections on the original publication: The power relations of Whiteness, though at times slippery, such as in its post-racial ideological forms, are supported through legal codes and by extra-judicial means as well as through neoliberal economic arrangements that protect, fortify, and enhance the status of Whiteness. The concept of property is an example of the deployment of these relations of power.
Meeting 1 Discussion Questions:
From the text: “The origins of whiteness as property lie in the parallel systems of domination of Black and Native American peoples out of which were created racially contingent forms of property and property rights[.]” … How did “whiteness emerge from color to race to status to property as a progression historically rooted in white supremacy and economic hegemony over Black and Native American people [?]” (p.1714)
How were race and economic domination fused through the entrenchment of plantation slavery? What is an example of a ‘slave code’ and how have the ‘slave codes’ starting from the 1660s been maintained up through today? (p.1718) What are 1-2 examples of how slave codes have created conditions relevant to the functions of the art industry?
What does it mean to refer to whiteness as a form of status property? Has the artworld/art institutions/art industry relinquished this interest in whiteness as a form of status property with diversity initiatives? If so, what’s working? If not, why not? What is happening here and why?
How does a property interest in whiteness work in the artworld (openings, exhibitions, arts press, collectors, etc.) the art industry (administrative/support staff, labor, shipping, etc.)? Compare and contrast. There seem to be significant differences that matter for how to strategize for anti-racist transformation.
How and why did you become involved in the art industry?
Please come prepared with a one sentence answer.
Darla Migan is an emerging art critic living in upstate New York. She is a graduate of the Masters in Philosophy and the Arts at SUNY Stony Brook where she wrote her Master’s thesis on Foucauldian ‘counter-conducts’ and St. Augustine’s Confessions. Recently she completed her Ph.D in Philosophy at Vanderbilt University with a dissertation on orienting authentic judgment and Adrian Piper’s contributions to Black aesthetics.