Speculative Portraiture: The Imagined Black Body In Contemporary Art



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Visual representations of Blackness are ever changing. To visually define African-American identity is to explore decades of imagery both combatting and rejecting negative stereotypes and playing with them to magnify the issues within them. In Speculative Portraiture, I explore the significance of institutionally trained contemporary black American painters utilizing traditionally European narratives to visually represent contemporary black identity through portraiture. Rather than an essentialized definition of blackness, I am interested in identifying it in their works through contemporary theoretical understandings of blackness. From this point, I split the research into three parts: Imagined Black History, The Imagined Black Artist, and Styling Blackness. I use these three categories to examine the works of three artists and their visual interpretations of blackness through the imaginary insertion of black figures in traditional painting styles. While primarily looking to the work of Titus Kaphar, Kerry James Marshall, and Kehinde Wiley, I also thread in other black American artists who are playing with the same flexibility of identity through their works though not necessarily through the medium of painted portraits. I examine these artists and their portraits through the lens of critical race theory in the visual arts by theorists such as Darby English and Franz Fanon to establish a working definition of contemporary black identity and its signifiers. By identifying signifiers, I am able to deconstruct black representation through European visual constructions of the 18th and 19th centuries in a non-abstract way.



Art history, African diaspora, Black art, Marshall, Kerry James, Wiley, Kehinde, Colescott, Robert, Cox, Renee, Kaphar, Titus