In keeping with my determination to continue publishing work on intersected issues of gender, race and geographic inclusivity, specifically in relation to museums, galleries and the arts – often against all the odds within a very exclusionary Euro-American academy – I am pleased that my research on Caribbean diaspora artists, initially compiled for conference presentations at the University of the West Indies (Mona, Jamaica) and LSBU (London, UK), was accepted for inclusion in the next issue of the international journal African and Black Diaspora.
Throughout my c.6,000-word illustrated article – titled, ‘Four Women, For Women: Caribbean Artists Reimag(in)ing the Fine Art Canon’ – I examine and critique changing depictions of women of colour via the visual arts, and consider the aesthetic qualities, historical significance and cultural impacts of a diverse body of image-making spanning several centuries. Following an introductory appraisal and chronological survey, the main body of my analysis focuses on selected works from the portfolios of four, early to mid-career contemporary visual artists of Caribbean heritage, whose nuanced depictions of black and brown womanhood in the twenty-first century have achieved international acclaim:
- American interdisciplinary artist Aisha Tandiwe Bell (b. 1974, New York; Jamaican heritage)
- American mixed-media artist and collagist Andrea Chung (b. 1978, Newark, NJ; Jamaican/Chinese and Trinidadian heritage)
- French figurative painter Elizabeth Colomba (b. 1973, Épinay-sur-Seine, France; Martinican heritage)
- Danish-Trinidadian photographer, video artist and performance installationist Jeannette Ehlers (b. 1973, Holstebro, Denmark).
The lyrics of Nina Simone’s heart-rending soul song ‘Four Women’ (written in 1964, and released by Philips on the album Wild is the Wind, 1966), in addition to related analysis of the words featured in Debra Powell-Wright’s essay ‘Four Women, For Women: Black Women All Grown Up’ (2010), provide important points of departure from which to assess how an accumulation of contested representations, racialized stereotypes and de-normalising caricatures of black and brown womanhood have significantly influenced ways of seeing, ways of being seen, and ways of being in the world.
In contrast, the featured artworks by the four aforementioned contemporary Caribbean diaspora artists stand in opposition to the presence of these negative, ‘controlling images’ (Hill Collins 2000, 76-77), and also serve to exemplify a growing body of alternative and corrective counter-visualisations that, collectively, are helping to reimag(in)e, redefine and diversify how women of colour are represented via the visual arts.
During my narrative, I cite observations and theoretical insights documented by bell hooks, Carol E. Henderson and other notable gender and critical race scholars concerning the importance of self-representation as a means of returning the gaze, “talking back” and “claiming a self” (see, respectively, hooks 1989, 9, Henderson 2010, 6). This is combined with additional insights from the featured Caribbean diaspora artists’ personal reflections on their own creative practice, and also aligned with commentary from other avant-gardists with heritage from the region to conclude that this ever-increasing accumulation of positive and politically-aesthetic representations – of and by women of colour – not only serves to salve centuries of violence inflicted on black and brown women’s bodies, but also serves as a powerful mechanism for “re-establish[ing] the integrity of the black female self” (op cit, 6).
To conclude this announcement about my article, I’d like to express particular thanks to the artist Andrea Chung (whose photograph is shown above as the title image for this blog post). Andrea and her representatives as Klowden Mann Gallery were extremely helpful to me during the completion of my research, and I remain most grateful that permission was subsequently granted to feature art images for two important early works from Andrea’s portfolio as illustrations for key concepts within the visual analysis. The specific works in focus were a collage from the series ‘Domino Cotta’ (2008) and a still from the mixed-media, stop animation ‘Agatha Tears’ (2009), both of which are viewable online via the artist’s website at http://andreachungart.com/.
To read the abstract and full-text of the published article, please follow the link below:
Dixon, C. A. (2020) ‘Four Women, For Women: Caribbean Diaspora Artists Reimag(in)ing the Fine Art Canon,’ African and Black Diaspora: An International Journal, Vol. 13 (3). https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17528631.2019.1701810
Henderson, Carol E. 2010. Imagining the Black female body: reconciling image in print and visual culture. 1st ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Hill Collins, Patricia. 2000. Black feminist thought: knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. 2nd ed. New York and London: Routledge.
hooks, bell. 1989. Talking back: thinking feminist, thinking black. Boston, MA: South End Press.
Powell-Wright, Debra A. 2010. “Four women, for women: black women – all grown up ” In Imagining the black female body: reconciling image in print and visual culture, edited by Carol E. Henderson, 109-120. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
The photograph of Andrea Chung was taken at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, CA, as part of the photo shoot for Josie Gonzales’ interview with the artist in January, 2018. Source: Locale Lifestyle Magazine. Andrea is pictured in front of her artwork, Sea Change: Filthy Water Cannot be Washed (2017) – http://andreachungart.com/2017-2/_mg_7584/.