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Our Time Has Come

L'heure de nous-mêmes a sonné

Towards Transatlantic and Transdisciplinary Approaches to Black Counter-Representations, from 1945 until Today

Étude transatlantique ettransdisciplinaire des contre-représentations noires de 1945 à nos jours

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Published on Friday, December 06, 2019 by Anastasia Giardinelli

Summary

The central goal of this conference lies thus in the investigation of the multiplicity of visual representations produced by the Black population and diaspora between France and the United States in the second half of the 20th century. In particular, we invite researchers to focus on productions which have challenged—directly or indirectly—the traditional canon for Black representations. Of particular interest in this conference are examples demonstrating a visual/ideologic rupture with depreciative models that permeated the public imagination in the West, whether they be positive counter-models or new visual representations aiming to critically subvert formerly pejorative representational frames. 

Announcement

Argument

Within the title of Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel Invisible Man lies a hint of the “presence/absence” dialectic that has weighed on African-Americans throughout history: the artistic representations of this section of society are predominantly negative and stigmatizing. Indeed, examples of racist visuals in both France and the US are far from scarce, ranging for instance from the American “Coon” to the French skirmisher Banania—even “Jim Crow” was originally a character in one of the most popular Blackface Minelstry shows of the 19th century. Understood as a subjective racial construct, racialization has long permeated all forms of representations on both sides of the Atlantic, and first and foremost in iconographic representations.[1] Black people have produced a body of (self)representations in response to the proliferation of racial stereotypes in mainstream culture, though these are less visible to a wider audience. 

The central goal of this conference lies thus in the investigation of the multiplicity of visual representations produced by the Black population and diaspora between France and the United States in the second half of the 20th century. In particular, we invite researchers to focus on productions which have challenged—directly or indirectly—the traditional canon for Black representations. Of particular interest in this conference are examples demonstrating a visual/ideologic rupture with depreciative models that permeated the public imagination in the West, whether they be positive counter-models or new visual representations aiming to critically subvert formerly pejorative representational frames. 

The primary, but not sole, focal point of our conference is still and animated pictures made by/about Black Americans and members of the Black diaspora; as such, (case) studies of images which circulated transatlantically and contributed to establishing new paradigms will be particularly appreciated. Beyond the images themselves, we are interested in learning about the context of their production (historical as well as material) and their reception, as well as their posterity and influence. For instance, papers conducting studies about how, in the time period, networks of Black production and circulation have been able to emerge are most welcome. All these reconfigurations have increasingly come to occupy public space, with renewed vigor since the “long postwar era,” during which dissentive representations came to light in the context of a “society of mass images,” also confronted with decolonization and multiculturalism. 

Though such re-readings have become quite topical and now participate in contemporary debates on visibility and the writing of history, their roots are in fact historical. 1945 represented a breaking point, the emergence of “new” Black counter-representations becoming more “audible,” while following genocides, a redistributed narrative pushed democratic consensus and relinquishment of racism to the fore. African-Americans’ renewed activism in the US was echoed in the agitated colonial context, in particular in Algeria where the French army bombed Setif and Guelma as early as May 8th, 1945, illustrating the undermining of colonial empires.

 

The transatlantic frame of analysis chosen for this conference will allow for new insights into the formation of a (counter)canon of Black representations, as they have long been produced at the intersection of complex interactions, various hydridizations and international fluxes, in the American context in the wake of the Triangular Trade, as well as in the French context, heir to colonialism until the 1960s. While both systems are distinct—based on segregation for the former and colonialism for the latter—singular analogies can be drawn between both republics, in terms of “imaging” the question of race. Using the tools of comparative history, we intend to approach the transatlantic circulation of these images by analyzing the intertwining of contact points, as well as their repercussions, between the US and French systems.[2]

 

In order to do so, we encourage prospective speakers to consider the seminal notion of “double consciousness,” coined in 1903 by W.E.B. DuBois and subsequently developed in various disciplinary fields. In the Black-American thinker’s words, “this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity”.[3] It should be noted that the expression also touches upon the conciliation of the Africanness of individuals in Western societies. As a consequence, proposals tackling representations (be they visual, musical, literary) which materialize this “double consciousness,” or conversely which deviate from it in order to show its limits, will be considered particularly favorably. 

 

During this conference, we will also focus on opening the reflection to the multiple possible configurations of these "new" imageries. In 1992, sociologist Stuart Hall put forward the provocative question: "What is this ‘black’ in Black popular culture?”[4] In the same vein, we could, for example, ask what is "black" in Black representations and thus raise the question of their authenticity, and therefore their legitimacy. In order to extend this reflection, participants will be able to focus on (counter)representations from cultural currents seeking to value the contribution of Black people to world history and the collective imagination, such as Negritude, Pan-Africanism or the Black Power movement, which may also form part of the reflection. 

 

Another possible perspective could concern images ignored or even excluded from the research field of official history because they come from marginal actors or have simply fallen into oblivion and would therefore be confined "to the margins" of representation studies. The use of a range of diverse visual sources, coupled with the transatlantic observation prism, will allow speakers to revisit the common ground of Black representations, to deconstruct them and to propose a renewed reading in the light of the analysis of these imageries.

 

Finally, the issue of memorial conflicts related to these representations raises questions about the position that researchers can adopt in relation to these images, placing themselves in a given political, economic and social context as well as in historiographies that are sometimes in conflict with one another

 

[1] In the 1960s, the patron and art collector Dominique de Menil initiated the research and publishing project around representations of blacks in Western art. The ten volumes of this collection have become an essential reference on the subject. Bindman, David, Henry Louis Gates, and Karen C. C Dalton, The Image of the Black in Western Art, Cambridge/Houston: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, in collaboration with the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research Menil Collection, 2010.

[2] Werner, Michael and Bénédicte Zimmermann, "Penser l'histoire croisée : entre empirie et réflexivité," Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales 1, 2003.

[3] DuBois, W. E. B., The Souls of Black Folk, New York: Dover Publications, 1903, 2.

[4] Dent, Gina, Black Popular Culture, New York: The New Press, 1998, 21. This collection includes Stuart Hall's 1991 text, delivered at a symposium organized by the Dia Center for the Arts, "What is this 'Black' in Black Popular Culture?"

 

Places

  • tour Signal - Université d'Amiens, Chemin du Thil. Pole citadelle
    Amiens, France (80)

Date(s)

  • Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Keywords

  • image, racisme, transatlantique, représentation, stéréotype, études visuelles, double-conscience, noir, vingtième siècle, racialisation, blackface

Contact(s)

  • Olivier Maheo
    courriel : olivier [dot] maheo1 [at] gmail [dot] com

Reference Urls

Information source

  • Olivier Maheo
    courriel : olivier [dot] maheo1 [at] gmail [dot] com

To cite this announcement

« Our Time Has Come », Study days, Calenda, Published on Friday, December 06, 2019, https://calenda.org/721187

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