"The Marketplace of the Flesh": Coordinates for an Art History of Black Women's Labor
College Art Association, Chicago, June 25 - July 23, 2019
Theorist Hortense Spillers contends that black women’s enslavement “relegated them to the market place of the flesh, an act of commodification so thoroughgoing that the daughters labor even now under the outcome.” For Spillers, black femininity is an ontological position that constitutes “the principal point of passage between the human and non-human world.” Moreover, this commodification of the flesh did not end with emancipation, its vestiges live on in black women’s labor in the present.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, artists working in the Atlantic World mobilized the picturesque to obfuscate the realities of chattel slaveryand the work of black women in particular. The fungibility that conditioned black femininity under slavery and in its wake has all-too-often been elided in art historical scholarship. Taking Spillers’s provocation as our starting point, this panel asks: Where can black women’s labor be located in the visual record? How do black women’s artistic practices continue to interrogate the visual and material histories of labor at the violent nexus of the human and non-human?
We welcome proposals that take up the visual and material conditions of black labor and women’s work in the Atlantic World. This includes, but is by no means limited to: the intersecting histories of gender and race as they relate to the representation of labor or its objects; contemporary artistic, visual and material cultural treatments of black women’s labor; and capacious approaches to black femininity and labor untethered to binary gender, encompassing trans* and queer identities.