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By Phillip Brian Harper

In a huge reassessment of African American tradition, Phillip Brian Harper intervenes within the ongoing debate concerning the “proper” depiction of black humans. He advocates for African American aesthetic abstractionism—a representational mode wherein an art, instead of striving for realist verisimilitude, vigorously asserts its basically synthetic personality. conserving that realist illustration reaffirms the very social proof that it can were understood to problem, Harper contends that abstractionism exhibits up the particular constructedness of these evidence, thereby subjecting them to severe scrutiny and making them amenable to transformation.

Arguing opposed to the necessity for “positive” representations, Abstractionist Aesthetics displaces realism because the fundamental mode of African American representational aesthetics, re-centers literature as a critical web site of African American cultural politics, and elevates experimental prose in the area of African American literature. Drawing on examples throughout quite a few inventive construction, together with the visible paintings of Fred Wilson and Kara Walker, the track of Billie vacation and Cecil Taylor, and the prose and verse writings of Ntozake Shange, Alice Walker, and John Keene, this ebook poses pressing questions on how racial blackness is made to imagine yes social meanings. within the method, African American aesthetics are upended, rendering abstractionism because the strongest modality for Black illustration.

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Given that this female figure also seems to be engaged in sexual activity (and, at the same time, not especially engaged by it), the depiction might further be understood to affirm that collectivity’s wantonly lascivious or “hypersexed” character—­but only insofar as generalized presuppositions along those lines already inform the cultural context into which the silhouettes emerge. In other words, what late-­1990s critics of Walker’s work evidently feared was that, in appearing to draw on stereotypical ideas about African Americans—­perhaps especially about African American women—­Walker’s representations would serve to confirm those ideas rather than to combat them, just as earlier black-­caricatural imagery is understood to have done.

Guggenheim Museum. Photo courtesy the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation / Art Resource, NY. ||| 45 figure until it is effectively obliterated in the grid, which thus issues forth as the focal point of the composition. 54 The foregoing example of course implies that it is merely landscape elements (or, for that matter, wholly inanimate objects) that are absorbed within the modernist grid, but while certain instances of postmodernist practice seem engineered to remind us that a specifically human import is also embedded there, they are liable as well to recapitulate the vexed racial politics that I have already suggested informs the grid’s genericizing function.

Reproduced, by permission, from Goings, Mammy and Uncle Mose: Black Collectibles and American Stereotyping (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994). detriment, and so has long elicited not sympathetic acquiescence but studied resistance within African American culture. Walker’s tableaux themselves suggest how such detriment has been furthered by visual means, inasmuch as they recall a long-­lived graphic tradition that similarly combines clearly referential and obviously imagined elements, but whose deployment vis-­à-­vis black people has entailed indisputably prejudicial intent.

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