A Black Presence Disclosed in Absence: The Politics of Difference in Contemporary Art

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A Black Presence Disclosed in Absence: The Politics of Difference in Contemporary Art

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Title: A Black Presence Disclosed in Absence: The Politics of Difference in Contemporary Art
Author: Van Patterson, Cameron
Citation: Van Patterson, Cameron. 2011. A Black Presence Disclosed in Absence: The Politics of Difference in Contemporary Art. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: As an interdisciplinary project that integrates African and African American Studies, critical race theory, and Art History, this dissertation attempts to enrich our understanding of the politics of difference in contemporary art by interrogating the formal practices of artists and the social significance of their work. The artwork discussed reflects a pattern of creative engagement with archival institutions and documents that is characteristic of contemporary artists who are concerned with questions of consumption and the body; representation and erasure; the social construction of race and space; and the relationship between history, memory, and identity. Taken together, these themes constitute a discursive landscape within contemporary art that is central to the principle question raised here—namely, how do social genres of difference and relations of power influence artistic practices of representation, curatorial display, and reception? In an attempt to both answer and reverse the direction of this question, this text presents insightful perspectives from different artists on the complex relationship between art and society. Using the politics of difference as a lens through which to examine the aforementioned themes in contemporary art, I argue that the artists under consideration are transforming the meaning of race in post-slavery societies throughout the black diaspora. Through various creative practices, these artists are shifting the terms, coordinates, and representations of difference seen in the archive in order to reimagine the language of identity in the twenty-first century. Fundamentally, their work challenges the way certain bodies are recognized—compelling us, as viewers, to reinterpret the past from alternative and critical perspectives. Moreover, by focusing on the disclosure of a black presence in western cultures through the comparative formal and historical analysis of contemporary works of art that call our attention to misrepresentation, commodification, invisibility, and displacement, this dissertation contributes to developing conversations about how contemporary artists challenge dominant narratives and representational aesthetics. Through their work, these artists expand our conception of the archive—disclosing the overlapping ways in which objects, images, words, signs, ideas, ads, bodies, and spaces register social and historical meaning through the demarcation of racialized difference. Ultimately, this project demonstrates how art can transform the way we see and represent ideas of difference, and therein, the way we see and represent ourselves.
Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:10336926
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