Resisting overdetermination, destabilising representation : African American artists performing for the camera since the 1970s
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This thesis posits performance for the camera, exemplified by selected practices of contemporary African American artists, as a means of exploring the construction and fixation of identities and a strategy for dismantling hegemonic conceptions of race and gender. Studying the work of Adrian Piper, Glenn Ligon, Lyle Ashton Harris, Senga Nengudi, Maren Hassinger, Howardena Pindell, David Hammons and Pope.L, it examines the ways in which these artists incorporate embodied performance and personal information into their practices simultaneously foreclosing autobiographical readings and challenging interpretations overdetermined by race, gender and sexuality. In these practices, the image production of performance engages in dialogues with existing representations, highlighting the limited capacity of photographic imagery – and representation more broadly – to give voice to individual positionalities and nonconformist sensibilities. Shedding light on discords between individual and group representations, especially in the wake of the civil rights movement and second-wave feminism, the artists in question gestured towards artistic explorations that decades later became codified as a novel genre of post-black art. These artists destabilised the performative agency of performing for the camera, revealing the biases and abstractions inherent to photographic and video processes. Artistic methodologies examined in this thesis deny photographic technologies of reproduction their often assumed transparency, calling into question the role of the camera as a transmitter of historical and personal truths. Finally, analyses comprising this thesis point to the use of performance-generated images as critiques of entrenched racial biases of camera technologies. This thesis constitutes an intervention into dominant theories of performance, its mediation and mediatisation, and exposes their imbrication in white, Western, neoliberal viewpoints. It argues that the selected practices offer innovative approaches to embodiment, representation, abstraction and performativity – approaches that have been overlooked in theoretical scholarship due to their overdetermination with race and ethnicity.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: 2027-05-06
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations. Restricted until 6th May 2027
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