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Abstractionist AestheticsArtistic Form and Social Critique in African American Culture$
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Phillip Brian Harper

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9781479865437

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479865437.001.0001

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Black Personhood in the Maw of Abstraction

Black Personhood in the Maw of Abstraction

(p.17) 1 Black Personhood in the Maw of Abstraction
Abstractionist Aesthetics

Phillip Brian Harper

NYU Press

This chapter continues the investigation of visual art begun in the introduction, examining the charges lodged against artist Kara Walker in 1997 that her silhouette installations present “negative images” of black people. It conceives those claims about negative black images as a reaction against the principle of abstraction that clearly informs Walker’s figural depictions, and on which abstractionism itself necessarily depends. The chapter then considers the myriad ways in which abstraction has in fact historically been deployed to black people’s detriment, whether in social, political, or aesthetic terms, making it an understandable object of suspicion within African American culture. Maintaining that abstractionism is nevertheless a potentially powerful tool for African Americanist critique, the chapter concludes by outlining some of the historical reasons that visual art in particular is not especially hospitable to abstractionist strategies at this juncture, thereby clearing the way for a consideration of what other art forms promise in this regard.

Keywords:   abstraction, abstractionism, Kara Walker, negative black images, visual art

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