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Incidences de l'événement

Hélène Le Dantec-Lowry
Claudine Raynaud

III. Histoires, spectacles et mémoire/stories, spectacles and memory

1969: Black Art and the Aesthetics of Memory

Cheryl Finley


Cet article examine certaines des utilisations révolutionnaires de l’icône du navire négrier pendant la période du «Black Arts Movement» (1965-1976) pour étudier les implications de l’esthétique le la mémoire africaine-américaine. Par l’analyse d’une série d’événements qui eurent lieu en 1969, l’auteur explore la manière dont les innovateurs visuels et culturels, tels que R. Bearden, M. Bailey, T. Feelings et A. Baraka ont articulé les événements-clé de l’histoire noire au travers de leurs réinterprétations de l’icône du navire négrier, un emblème schématique de la période abolitionniste. Parmi la génération d’artistes noirs qui s’imposèrent après la décision Brown v. Board of Education de la Cour Suprême des États-Unis en 1954. l’auteur montre comment ils ont choisi une pratique artistique responsable et viable qui place les problèmes historiques, sociaux et économiques au cœur des choix esthétiques. Assumant le rôle d’artistes militants, ils emploient des stratégies mnémoniques et des outils esthétiques pour définir une pratique artistique contemporaine qui témoigne des vies et des événements marquants de la lutte des Noirs pour exister en Amérique.

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1Nineteen sixty-nine marked a seminal year of the Black Arts Movement (1965-1976). Beginning on January ninth, the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition (B.E.C.C.), led by artists Benny Andrews and Henri Ghent, was formed to protest the absence of black artistic, curatorial and scholarly participation in the exhibition, Harlem on My Mind: Cultural Capital of Black America, 1900-1968. That divisive show, on view at die Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York from January 18th to April 6th of that year, was organized by Allon Schoener and boycotted by black artists for its failure to include works by contemporary black artists or to involve black curators or arts professionals. Recognized as the first ever “blockbuster” exhibition in the United States, the failings of Harlem on My Mind ignited local and national controversy and its aftermath served to bring to a boil an already simmering pot of black artistic activism against the exclusionary practices of mainstream cultural institutions around the country. The year ended with the founding of a new black arts institution, Cinque Gallery, in December 1969 by artists Romare Bearden, Ernest Crichlow and Norman Lewis in New York’s East Village. Named for the heroic leader of the famed 1839 Amistad revolt, Cinque Gallery operated as a not-for-profit representing the work of young, emerging black artists. With a name chosen from black history, the aims and purposes of Cinque Gallery and the artists it showed had a mission and consciousness rooted in the black struggle that the patronizing and popular Harlem on My Mind did not have. These two events serve as bookends to a prolific and indeed pivotal year of black creativity, bringing into sharper view an arsenal of images, establishment of practices and awareness of attitudes that would be used by black artists to define black art and identity in America for years to come.

2To be sure, the Black Arts Movement was the most significant black creative arts explosion since the Harlem Renaissance (1919-1929). Known for the formation of artists’ collectives, culturally-focused institutions and community-based programming, the Black Arts Movement represented a period of intense artistic, social and political activism that grew out of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s and valued its focus on education. The Black Arts Movement furthermore mirrored the Black Power struggle of the 1960s and early 1970s and tapped into black international freedom struggles in Africa, the Caribbean and Europe (England and France) of the same period. Encompassing the visual, literary and performing arts, the Black Arts Movement produced a racially focused art that explored the roots and meanings of black identity during an era of black self-determination. As Mary Schmidt Campbell observed, “In the face of the extraordinary political and social changes brought about by the Civil Rights Movement, many Black American artists found it necessary to clear away the old symbols of the ancien régime and put in their place new metaphors for a new African American identity, an identity that would permanently supplant the “Negro” in American culture " (Schmidt Campbell, 1985, 64).

3For some artists, this meant re-working racist stereotypes from the past in order to render them impotent and strip them of their demeaning powers. For example, the sexless, brooding servant embodied by the Aunt Jemima stereotype was parodied with grenade in hand in Joe Overstreet’s larger-than-life pancake box called New Jemima (1964), and revolutionized by Betye Saar, with a rifle and the clinched Black Power fist in The Liberation of Aunt Jemima (1972). But for other artists, this meant “remembering” empowering icons and noted figures in black history to shape new works of art that define identity in social, political, economic and gendered perspectives. As Schmidt Campbell explains, “the remembering clarified the distinctiveness of African American history” (Schmidt Campbell, 1985, 65). In a purposeful, aesthetic process that I have called symbolic possession of the past, these artists have found it necessary to reach back in time to reclaim important emblems and icons of history as a way of understanding their relationship to the present (Finley, 2001). Practicing a form of mnemonic aesthetics, they reinterpret the symbols of the past in order to bring into focus the uniqueness of black history, identity and culture, indeed to define their ongoing struggle to be in America.

4The Black Arts Movement heralded a time of revolutionary art production and dissemination, where black artists employed innovative and radical means to create, publish and exhibit their work. Its greatest proponents utilized new materials, such as acrylic paint, synthetic polymers, and unstructured canvases as well as clever means of presenting ideas, such as Revolutionary Theatre, performance art and photography. They frequently relied upon the symbols of the past as fodder for their works of activist potential.

1. Soul Searching

  • 1 On March 25, 1807, the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act went into effect in Great Britain and her c (...)

5One of the key images that black artists resurrected during this period of soul searching was an eighteenth-century abolitionist icon: a black and white schematic print showing, in the words of its original maker, the Plymouth Committee of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade (SEAST) in England, a Plan of an African Ship’s lower deck with Negroes in the Proportion of only one to a Ton (Fig. 1). That shocking image was first published in 1789 as an oblong engraving accompanying a four-page pamphlet calling for the end of the slave trade. It was later incorporated into broadsides, tracts and material objects of varying designs and effectiveness and distributed by the thousands by the London Committee of the SEAST and other abolitionist committees in England, France and the United States over the next 20 years. Even after the slave trade was legally abolished by the United Kingdom and the United States in 1807 and 1808 respectively, the poignancy of the plan of the slave ship continued to resonate among crusaders against the burgeoning illegal slave trade and the daily brutalities of slavery on New World sugar, cotton and tobacco plantations.1 The plan of the slave ship remained an icon, a revolutionary print in the abolitionists’ arsenal, until chattel slavery as a system of human bondage was brought to an end. I have named that image the slave ship icon for its continued presence in the minds and creative work of twentieth century black artists and their allies (Finley, 1999).

Fig. 1. Plan of an African Ship’s lower deck with Negroes in the Proportion of only one to a Ton, 1789

6For black artists, playwrights and poets of the 1960s, the slave ship icon was pregnant with multiple, useful interpretations, adaptable for black nationalist and integrationist agendas alike. One of the most influential publications responsible for developing mid-twentieth century black consciousness of the slave ship icon, and forging a purposeful remembering of that influential image, was A Pictorial History of the Negro in America: 1,000 Illustrations from Prints, Engravings, Photographs, Paintings written by Langston Hughes and Milton Meltzer in 1956. Published just two years after the historic Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that declared segregation illegal, that book was a rallying cry for black people to wake up and reclaim the images that had shaped their past. A Pictorial History of the Negro in America provided visual fodder for the Black Arts Movement in the form of historical images meticulously selected from the collections of Hughes and Meltzer as well as archives from around the country. As the book’s promotional material claimed,

This book is far more than a collection of pictures – fascinating as they are. Beginning with the origins of the Negro in Africa, the authors trace in text and picture the story of the Negro as a slave and as a freeman, who he is, where he came from, what he has contributed, how he has affected and, in turn, has been affected by American life and, finally, where he is headed. Included in this absorbing account are reproductions of news editorials, letters, posters, handbills and pamphlets, ranging from the early days of the slave trade to the recent desegregation decision of the Supreme Court. (Hughes & Meltzer, 1956, book jacket flap)

  • 2 On April 21, 1968, 100 black students took over Willard Straight Hall at Cornell University, demand (...)

7Accompanying the profusely illustrated pages was a moving text written by Hughes, which led the reader/viewer to the significance of each image in black history. The Hughes-Meltzer collaboration was reminiscent of earlier fruitful partnerships that produced notable photographically illustrated books with integrated and inspiring narratives. Distinguished among these are Richard Wright and Edwin Rosskam’s Twelve Million Black Voices (1941) and Hughes’s own joint venture with photographer Roy De Carava, The Sweet Flypaper of Life (1955). A Pictorial History of the Negro in America also owed a debt of gratitude to other historical precursors, including the journals Opportunity, Crisis and the Journal of Negro History. Together, the momentum started by these pioneering black history and culture journals, the Hughes-Meltzer collaboration, and the appearance of popular black-oriented magazines like Jet and Ebony set the stage for all manner of educational advances in African-American Studies in the 1960s and 1970s, including the reissuing of important black-authored texts from the 1920s and 1930s; the establishment of black studies departments in mainstream American colleges and universities; and the integration of black history as part of secondary and elementary school curricula.2 The first book of its kind to be published after the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, A Pictorial History of the Negro in America made a direct link between the value of knowing one’s history and the success of freedom struggles:

Here, for the first time, is an authoritative, panoramic picture story of the Negro in America, from the arrival of the first African slave ship to present times, covering every aspect of Negro life – social, political, artistic and economic. This unique book, lavishly illustrated with more than 1,000 reproductions of pictures, paintings, broadsides, drawings, woodcuts and cartoons, contains concise pictorial accounts of all the important events in the Negro’s dramatic struggle for freedom. (Hughes & Meltzer, 1956, book jacket flap)

8A Pictorial History of the Negro in America moreover inspired an entire cadre of black artists and writers in the 1960s and 1970s, including Alex Haley (Roots, 1976); black artists’ collectives, such as the Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC), that spearheaded the public mural movement of the late 1960s with the Wall of Respect (1967) in Chicago; the poet and playwright Amiri Baraka (formerly LeRoi Jones); and the artist Malcolm Bailey. By “remembering” and presenting visual images and documents from the past, this volume “clarified the distinctiveness of African American history” (Schmidt Campbell, 1985, 65). A Pictorial History of the Negro in America was thus one of the key progenitors of the black visual practice of remembering known as symbolic possession of the past. And the slave ship icon was one of its essential images.

9In the pages that follow, I discuss two seminal works produced in 1969 in which artists reintroduced the slave ship icon: Amiri Baraka’s masterpiece of revolutionary theatre, Slave Ship: A Historical Pageant and Malcolm Bailey’s Separate but Equal series. These celebrated works of theatre and installation art are representative of a novel artistic practice that hinges on the relationship between history, memory and identity. Using memory and history as aesthetic tools these works and the artists who made them pioneered a new artistic practice that validates the defining moments of the black experience.

2. Amiri Baraka and the Development of Revolutionary Theatre

  • 3 According to the poet Haki R. Madhubuti (Don L. Lee), Amiri Baraka is “the acknowledged father” of (...)

10The poet, playwright, music critic and essayist Amiri Baraka was the galvanizing voice of the Black Arts Movement, indeed its leading theorist and literary artist.3 At the forefront of this black artistic and literary revolution, Baraka produced critically acclaimed poems, plays, jazz operas and music criticism in every year of the decade of the 1960s. As the chief artist-intellectual of the Movement, he encouraged black artists to abandon the integrationist themes of a raceless, classless society, which had become popular in the previous decade, to embrace instead an art and practice that was grounded in black experience, history and memory. In Baraka’s own words, the Black Arts Movement “declared a need for:

  1. An art that is recognizably Afro American

  2. An art that is mass oriented that will come out of the libraries and stomp

  3. An art that is revolutionary, that will be with Malcolm X and Rob Williams, that will conk klansmen and erase racists” (Baraka in Harris, 1991. xxi)

  • 4 In 1974. Baraka rejected Black Nationalism and converted to a form of international socialism, whic (...)

11Reflecting a firm Black Nationalist ideology, Baraka asserted that black art was a means for black artists and their audiences to gain a deeper understanding of themselves. It was an aesthetic strategy for deflecting, if not eliminating America’s racist tendencies4.

  • 5 Baraka described Revolutionary Theatre as “the force… of twenty million spooks storming America wit (...)

12Seeking an alternative and effective activist mode of expression for black art, Baraka pioneered a new form of black aesthetics, which he called “Revolutionary Theatre.”5 According to him, “The Revolutionary Theatre should force change; it should be change” (Baraka, 1966, 210). For Baraka, Revolutionary Theatre was inextricably linked to the political dynamic of the Black Power Movement. Theatre, as one of the most social of the performing arts, could be an integral part of the socializing process, urging young black audience members and actors to demand civil rights, or even organize for revolutionary change. The activist dimension of Revolutionary Theatre demanded the involvement and action of audience members and thus was designed to instill amongst them a certain level of responsibility and awareness through process and participation. The political implications of Baraka’s Revolutionary Theatre, like environmental theater of avant-garde New York in the 1960s and 1970s or the burgeoning performance art scene of the same period, “involved a profound restructuring of the social and psychological relationships that exist between performer and audience” (Isaac, 1971, 242). This new form of black aesthetics also encompassed a ritual component tied to its participatory nature, which reinforced the processes of remembering for actors and audience members alike. Revolutionary Theatre was intended to encourage collective remembering and collective action. It called for “new kinds of heroes ready to die for what’s on their minds” and the portrayal of hidden histories as a way to gain control of the dissemination and interpretation of black images (Baraka, 1966, 214). Bringing political and historical urgency to pressing social issues, such as police brutality and public school bussing, Revolutionary Theatre performed a radical, artistic intervention aimed at dislocating the white mainstream manipulation of the black image. In essence, it sought to rock the boat.

3. Slave Ship: a Historical Pageant

  • 6 The first production of Slave Ship was directed by Baraka at Spirit House in Newark, New Jersey and (...)

13Slave Ship: A Historical Pageant was performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theatre in New York from November 21, 1969 to January 13, 1970.6 Directed by Gilbert Moses, the play was produced by the Chelsea Theatre Centre in association with Woodie King Jr., with music by tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp. Eugene Lee designed the unforgettable set, a wooden slave ship on rockers with an exposed human cargo hold, after drawings he had seen of the slave ship icon. According to the white critic Clive Barnes of the New York Times, Slave Ship was, “a strong, strange play that once seen will never be forgotten” (Barnes, 1969, 46). That play challenged not only the status quo, but also conventional modes of theatrical production. In a radical feat of set design and choreography, the entire play took place in the hold of a slave ship, while the storyline followed a group of enslaved Africans through the torturous Middle Passage, to the monotony and degradation of the plantation, and to an ultimate uprising over oppression and exploitation. Slave Ship thus dramatized some of the defining moments of black American experience, and in Baraka’s words was called “a historical pageant”. On one level, the play dealt specifically with the issue of black racial identity, told through a series of historical vignettes that highlighted confrontations with white society. On another level, it portrayed black self-determination through resistance to oppression and obliteration. Overall, Slave Ship urged change through revolution, enacted in the final scenes of the play, which were meant to carry over to contemporary life through the collective actions of the Black Arts Movement.

  • 7 To date, my attempts to get photographic documentation of design drawings of the set have failed. I (...)

14The artistic implications of Baraka’s clever staging of the entire play within the hold of a slave ship are our immediate concern7. That radical choice recognized the centrality of the slave ship as a space of mnemonic proportions in the black psyche and relied upon novel set design, clever staging techniques and innovative props to produce and sustain the feeling of being trapped in the hold. Such a decision in staging necessarily dictated that the other spaces of black experience depicted in the play—the plantation, insurrection, and culminating celebration of black power even—were to be read through the defining experience of the Middle Passage and imagined from within the decks of the slave ship. Moreover, through the explicit strategies of revolutionary theater, Baraka’s play not only seemed to embody the chaotic situation described by the slave ship icon, but also succeeded in bringing it to life in a very tangible way that tapped into the sensorial dimension of memory of actors and members of the audience alike. Such a deliberate symbolic possession of the past sought to reclaim the political possibilities of the abolitionist-era the slave ship icon, adding a new and meaningful level of understanding for a late 1960s race-conscious black revolutionary audience.

15As a theatrical performance that took place in the hold of a slave ship, Baraka’s play in many ways referenced the slave ship icon, both visually and textually. On a visual level, the set shared certain architectural similarities with the space described in the slave ship icon. Designed to reproduce the feeling of claustrophobia and horror in the hold, indeed the sense of claustrophobia between decks, the creaky wooden set included hatches and other architectural details drawn in the plan of the slave ship.

16The lighting emphasized the contrast between complete and total darkness in the hold and blinding sunlight above, indeed the tension between black and white. And the actors and audience members crammed together recreated the sense of crowding represented by the tiny black figures populating the plan of the slave ship (see Fig. 2).

17It could be said that Baraka’s play activated the slave ship icon and charged it anew with revolutionary potential. The play not only created the environment that the diagrammatic abolitionist drawing suggests, it also produced the bodies that it depicted. The cast and the audience gave real live physical form to darkened figures of the plan. But instead of remaining silent or without words of their own, as the darkened figures drawn in the two-dimensional slave ship icon, Baraka’s slave bodies were allowed to speak. Through them, he inserted the voices, desires, movements and music of resistance that were absent from the slave ship icon. In a bold gesture then, Baraka re-inscribed the slave ship icon with an updated purpose fitting the revolutionary times.

18Baraka’s Slave Ship was closer to a reenactment of the experiences of the Middle Passage, plantation slavery and revolution, rather than a dramatic production of those events. As Revolutionary Theatre, audience members were an intimate and integral part of the play. They were seated in a set that placed them in the deepest bowels of the slave ship set, which moreover co-opted them as members of the cast, or re-enactors, if you will.

Fig. 2. Description of a Slave Ship, 1789

19In fact, in the script, they are listed among the cast as the “voices and bodies in the slave ship” (Baraka, 1969a, 1). The other members of the cast included the “voices of African slaves,” dancers, musicians, children, an “Old Tom,” played by a slave, and a “New Tom,” played by a slave, and a “New Tom,” played by a preacher, in addition to the “voices of white men,” a captain, sailor, and plantation owner.

  • 8 More than 30 years later, Robert Farris Thompson, is still haunted by the experience of Baraka’s Sl (...)

20Audience members were called upon to join the actors in making the sounds that created the aural setting for the play—the cries and screams. By thus soliciting the participation of the audience, the play vividly produced the sense of claustrophobia and terror in the hold of a slave ship.8 This enabled the members of the audience to share in the creation of the performance and consequently, moved them towards a sense of collective responsibility. As Francis Ngaboh-Smart points out, Baraka “assumes that the ritual of the stage consists in situating the events in the hearts of the black audience who, after reliving the memory of the sources of their cultural dislocation, can then work towards remedying their condition…. The collective enactment is supposed to help the community move toward regeneration” (Ngaboh-Smart, 1999, 181-82). As a participatory event then, Slave Ship operated for many as a cathartic experience, one of confinement, passage, struggle and release.

21The play was set in a virtual theatre of the senses, a performance space invaded by the sights, sounds and smells used by abolitionists to describe “the poo poo tubs, whips, chains and cries.” This dramatic effect was realized through the use of ingenious props geared to stimulate the aural and olfactory perception, including:

Smell effects…incense… dirt/filth
Heavy Chains

Drums (African bata drums, and bass and snare)
Rattles and tambourines
Banjo music for plantation atmos. [sic]

Ship noises
Ship bells
Rocking and Splashing of Sea
Guns and cartridges

Whips/whip sounds. (Baraka, 1969a, 1)

22The effects of the sounds and smells emanating from the set of the slave ship were intensified by carefully controlling of the sense of sight. In particular, darkness—deep, total, consuming darkness was utilized in a sustained manner to emphasize the atmosphere of containment experienced during the Middle Passage and throughout slavery in order to enforce the feeling of domination. The initial stage directions called for:

Whole theater in darkness. Dark. For a long time. Just Dark. Occasional sound, like ship groaning, squeaking, rocking. Sea smells. In the dark. Keep the people in the dark, and gradually the odors of the sea, the sounds of the sea, and sounds of the ship, creep up. Burn incense, but make a significant, almost stifling, smell come up. Urine. Excrement. Death. These smells and cries, the slash and tear of the lash, in a total atmos-feeling [sic] gotten some way. (Baraka, 1969a, 1)

23A large part of the play was in fact performed in the darkness, producing and reproducing “the drone of terror” (Baraka, 1969a, 1). Baraka’s use of lighting was specific. In some cases dim lights were used to point to voices or dialogue being spoken. “There is just dim light at top of the set, to indicate where voices are…” (Baraka, 1969a, 2). In other instances, bright lights starkly illuminated the characters of the slave traders and sailors, and reproduced the effect of blinding sunlight coming from open hatches above deck. For example, the stage directions specify, “Lights flash on white men in sailor suits grinning their vices… voices down… hummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Lights to light white people are sudden, very bright and blinding” (Baraka, 1969a, 5) and slightly different wording.

24As I have tried to suggest, Baraka’s play recovered and reinscribed the slave ship icon, effectively reshaping the descriptive text of the eighteenth century broadside to include the voices of the enslaved and their stories of survival, pain and suffering as well as their tactics of resistance and survival and the torturous conditions they endured. For example, their accounts of suicide and infanticide are enacted here:

Man 1 – God, she’s killed herself and the chi [sic] child. Oh, God. Oh, God….
Woman 1 – She strangled herself with the chain. Choked the child. Oh, shango! Help us, Lord. Oh, please. (Baraka, 1969a, 5)

25The well-documented history of rape and sexual abuse pictured and discussed in the schematic drawing and explanatory text of the slave ship icon is also enacted in the play:

Woman 2 - Oh, please, please don’t touch me… Please…
Man 1 - What you doing? Get away from that woman. That’s not your woman. You turn into a beast, too. (Baraka, 1969, 6)

26So is insanity:

Man 3 – Devils, Devils. Cold walking shit. (All mad sounds together). (Baraka, 1969a, 6)

27Through a dialogue that imagined the conversations between captives in the hold, Baraka created characters and stage directions that reflected a deep spiritual belief in African, particularly Yoruba, religion. Some of the initial stage directions called for, “African Drums like the worship of some Orisha. Obatala, Mbwanga rattles of the priests. BamBamBamBamBoom BoomBoom BamBam.” (Baraka, 1969a, 1). During the Middle Passage sequence, Shango, the thunder god, and Obatala, the Yoruba creator and father of the orishas or deities, are called upon as sources of strength by the ritual beating of the drums.

Man 1 - Shango, Obatala, make your lightning, beat the inside bright with paths for your people. Beat. Beat. Beat (Drums come up, but they are walls and floors being beaten. Chains rattled. Chains rattled. Drag the chains.) (Baraka, 1969a, 3)

28Towards the end of the play, the plantation revolt is brought on by summoning Ogun, the warrior god of iron.

Ogun. Give me weapons. Give me iron. My spear. My bone and muscle make them tight with tension of combat. Ogun, give me fire and death to give to these beasts. (Baraka, 1969a, 11)

29Baraka’s new narrative for the slave ship icon especially relied upon improviosnal music as a catalyst for action in the play. The concentrated repetition of sounds and music acted as strips of behavior, ritual beats that called upon the actor/audience participants to remember. Thus African music and religion performed a life sustaining function, delivering the enslaved Africans from the slave ship to the plantation and, ultimately, to the brink of a black nationalist revolution. The following lines are first chanted and then put to music:

Rise, Rise, Rise
Cut these ties, Black man rise
We gon’ be the thing we are…
(Now all sing, “When we gonna Rise”)
When we gonna rise/up
When we gonna rise/up
When we gonna rise/up…
When we gonna rise/up, brother
When we gonna rise/up above the sun
When we gonna take our own place, brother
Like the world had just begun?
Drum – new sax – voice arrangement. (Baraka, 1969a, 13-14)

  • 9 In the opening of the play we hear the sound of African drums and the plantation scene is marked by (...)

30Throughout the play, drumming, dancing and music stand as symbols of resistance and deep African memory. These musical symbols of an African past are never silenced, but only transformed, reshaped into popular forms of black American music.9 The culminating celebration of Black Power is punctuated by a fusion of jazz, soul music and popular black dances of the late 1960s:

Lights come up abruptly, and people on stage begin to dance, same hip Boogaloruba, fingerpop, skate, monkey, dog… Enter audience; get members of audience to dance. To same music Rise Up. Turns into an actual party. (Baraka, 1969a, 16)

31In Slave Ship, Baraka crafted a unique blend of “double voicing” that was richly nuanced, where the different layers of the senses and the spatial levels of the set collided and conversed with the actual voices of the cast and the audience, their co-opted re-enactors. This process of shaping and reshaping the experience of black Americans prompted Lloyd W. Brown to call Slave Ship “one of Baraka’s more successful experiments in ritual drama,” where “history itself becomes a succession of rituals” (Brown, 1980, 161).

32It was in these newly imagined possibilities for the slave ship icon that Baraka’s play gained revolutionary potential. Baraka refused to simply recreate the sense of suffering in the Middle Passage that the slave ship icon represents—to reproduce a static memory of the slave ship icon. Rather by reading other key moments in black Atlantic experience through the space of the Middle Passage—the hold and decks of the slave ship icon—he took that memory to a different level—one of responsibility. To be sure, Baraka produced a memory with revolutionary possibilities. After all, this was part of the aesthetic strategy of Revolutionary Theatre. It was a form of resistance. He thus made the slave ship icon part of a continuum.

4. Malcolm Bailey: Separate but Equal

  • 10 Cinque Gallery was operated as a not-for-profit center established with funds from the Urban Center (...)

33In the same year that Baraka produced Slave Ship, the young artist, Malcolm Bailey, gained widespread critical acclaim for his Separate but Equal series, an installation of monumental paintings and drawings inspired by the slave ship icon and the ensuing Civil Rights struggle. The series was featured in the inaugural exhibition of Cinque Gallery in Manhattan’s East Village in December 1969 (Fine, 1973; Glueck, 1969; Jacobs, 1970). Named for the leader of the famed Amistad mutiny of 1839, Cinque Gallery was the brainchild of three established black artists, Romare Bearden, Ernest Crichlow and Norman Lewis, whose vision it was to provide an exhibition space for young (under 30) minority artists who otherwise had few opportunities to show in mainstream galleries.10 Elton C. Fax reiterated the need for places like Cinque Gallery when he remarked that the “gifted twenty-four-year-old Malcolm Bailey, …with all his merit, would not easily have found a place to show” (Fax, 1973, 144-45).

  • 11 In the aftermath of the March on Washington in 1963, Charles Alston, Romare Bearden, Hale Woodruff, (...)
  • 12 Murals, such as the Wall of Respect by Eugene Wade, Bill Walker, Jeff Donaldson and other members o (...)

34The founding of Cinque Gallery was just one indication of how visual artists shaped the Black Arts Movement. They formed artist collectives, opened art museums and galleries and lobbied mainstream arts institutions for greater representation of black artists, curators and programming.11 This period produced a black art geared to reach the masses through community-based mural projects and the establishment of neighborhood art centers in urban areas.12 Using art for political and educational purposes, black artists endeavored to portray black history and black life, often through the depiction of key events and individuals. To be sure, the Black Arts Movement promoted an art and ideology of “Black Unity, Black Dignity and Black Respect.”

  • 13 See Enrique García-Herraiz, “Crónica de Nueva York,” for a review of the Whitney Annual in which Ho (...)

35Malcolm Bailey was an early recipient of the advances won by the civil rights movement. Born in Harlem in 1947, he won a fellowship to attend an integrated secondary school before going on to study art at the High School of Art and Design in New York and Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Bailey also received residencies at the predominantly white artist community of Yaddo in Silver Springs, New York and the McDowell Colony in Petersbourg, New Hampshire (Honig Fine, 1973, 62). He came to the attention of the mainstream art world largely through the Cinque Gallery premiere of his Separate but Equal series in 1969. In a photograph of the artist taken in front of one of his paintings at Cinque gallery, he appeared poised for success [Fig. 3]. Dressed in all black and sporting a neatly trimmed Afro, moustache and tinted glasses, Bailey was nothing but the vision of a cool and thriving downtown artist. In fact, he had reason to exude such an air of confidence. One of the key, unifying works from that show, the mixed media painting Hold: Separate but Equal, was selected for the Whitney Annual devoted to painting and subsequently purchased by the Museum of Modern Art.13 That painting confined white and black figures together in the hold of the slave ship for the first time and gave birth to the other monochromatic figurative works in the show.

  • 14 The form of this cross-section resembles those pictured in the nineteenth century engravings of the (...)

36Hold: Separate but Equal is a large, seven by four foot aqua blue panel with three schematic diagrams after the slave ship icon (see front cover). The white and black figures painted in the diagrams are divided by “race,” not gender: on one side, white figures mirror an equal number of black figures on the other. The diagram on the left shows one side of a plan view. It is empty except for the capital letters that label the vacant spaces. “G, A and E” in black and “N, B, F” in white. The diagram on the right pictures the plan view of the half deck with two rows of uniform black figures systematically arranged on one side and the same number of white figures on the other. This section is labeled with the letter “H” in black at the top, and the letter “E” in white at the bottom. The diagram in the center shows a cross section view of the hold, with an equal number of black and white figures separated by a bold vertical line that represents the mast.14 The figures on the upper deck, bend into a contorted, seated position in order to fit into the shallow space. Each of the figures is labeled with a letter (A, Β and so on) that corresponds to a location specified in the plan views above. The artist drew black and white lines of definition, which show the musculature of these figures in distress. Such a clever use of shading rendered the figures as anatomical drawings. The black or white figures in lower deck have even less space and are reduced to a reclining position, with legs bent. Instead of being labeled with single letters, this diagram is marked “HOLD” in bold black letters in the white section of the boat.

Fig. 3. Malcolm Bailey with his Separate but Equal Series at the inaugural opening of Cinque Gallery, New York City, December 1969. Copyright Don Hogan Charles/the New York Times/Redux

37Bailey’s choice of materials influenced the look and design of this painting. He applied synthetic polymer paint to composition board in order to achieve a slick aqua background. Presstype was used to demarcate the hard lines of the diagrams and the fine, white directional lines that divide spaces within the sections. Presstype also labeled the sections with bold, uniform letters. Together, these materials lent a crisp, mechanical look to the painting that reduced it to its barest essentials and enhanced its minimalist appearance. The use of a minimalist aesthetic accentuated the starkness of the plan view on the left and gave the sense that the other sections were not quite filled to capacity. This aesthetic strategy revealed a clear contrast between many of the late-eighteenth and nineteenth century versions of the slave ship icon, which were filled to capacity with tiny figures to emphasize the crowding. Furthermore, the apparent sense of openness in sections of Bailey’s blue print-like painting begs us to think about space, and contemporary allocations of different groups of people within real and imagined social spaces. We might be inclined to ask, who, or what other group (divided by race, sex or class, for instance) might fill the empty spaces?

  • 15 Some of his later works incorporate the same iconic figure, for example, Untitled No. 7, a brightly (...)

38Bailey was attracted to the slave ship icon for the historical narrative that it portrays as well as for its reference to graphic design. In particular, he was interested in the form and meaning of the iconic figures.15 If we return to the photograph of Bailey in front of one of his wall-sized paintings at the Cinque Gallery, the connection between the black and white figures that he paints and the human condition becomes indelibly clear. Seated on the polished gallery floor in profile, his posture mirrors the crouching position assumed by the black and white figures in the painting behind him. What is more, the photograph is taken from such an angle that Bailey actually “sits in” for and replaces one of the life-sized black figures.

  • 16 Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 introduced the “separate but equal doctrine” in public transportat (...)
  • 17 The art historian Eisa Honig Fine interviewed Malcolm Bailey on June 8, 1972 for her book The Afro- (...)

39Hold: Separate but Equal clearly engaged the popular national debate on integration and race relations. The title, Separate but Equal, refers to the landmark school desegregation case, Brown vs. Board of Education, argued in 1954, which overturned Plessy vs. Ferguson, the 1896 ruling that amounted to government-sanctioned segregation and created the doctrine of “separate but equal” for blacks and whites. The triumph of Brown vs. Board of Education ushered in the civil rights movement and integration. In fact, Bailey himself was an early beneficiary of integration and a believer, it seemed, in the future that it promised.16 In an interview with Elsa Honig Fine in 1972, Bailey asserted “real revolution won’t occur until poor whites as well as poor blacks realize they are oppressed.”17 His iconic black and white figures from the Separate but Equal series were a visual affirmation of that ideology: they mirror and double each other, duplicating the same painful postures in the oppressive confínes of a slave ship.

40The medium and the message of Bailey’s reclaimed slave ship icon differed greatly from that of Baraka’s brought to life in the production of Slave Ship performed in the same year. That such wildly varying ideas could be expressed with an evocation of the same image was a reminder of the interpretive possibilities of the slave ship icon and an indication of its double-edged nature. But these two projects also stand as an example of how different philosophies circulated among artists and innovators of the Black Arts Movement.

Coda: “A Theology of Remembrance”

41On December 17, 2000, a circular stained glass window with an image of the slave ship icon was dedicated at the New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, a black congregation in the West Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago’s South Side. The brilliant rose window stands 25 feet in diameter on the east side of the building. The morning sunlight illuminates the somber shades of blue and gray that color the central figure: an African man with outstretched arms whose torso is filled with the central crowded section of the slave ship icon. With chains descending from his outstretched arms and angular pieces of stained glass that depict currents of water, he seems to be pushing up, propelling his body through the water, rising from the depths of an unspeakable struggle It would be hard not to mistake the body of this African man as a Christ figure, albeit one that has been updated for an African American audience poised to take control of the images that align their historic struggle with those of biblical narratives. According to the Rev. Marshall E. Hatch, pastor of the New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, “That’s a Christ figure for us, an African Man. He’s ascending with the bodies and suffering of the slave ship” (Walters, 2000, 24).

42The idea for the window was inspired by a drawing in the illustrated children’s book, Middle Passage: White Ships, Black Cargo by Tom Feelings, which caught the attention of The Rev. Hatch while he was a scholar-in-residence at the Harvard Divinity School in 1998 (Feelings, 1995). Since its publication in 1995, Feelings’ book has remained hugely popular with black audiences in the United States, an accessible visual narrative that depicts a formative part of collective black experience in easy to read, yet excruciatingly painful, visceral images. In all, the book has 54 pen and ink tempera drawings with an introduction by John Hendrick Clarke. Feelings purposely chose not to include a written narrative, with the idea that the images would tell the story, while allowing the reader/viewer to imagine an accompanying text.

43Feelings, a native of Brooklyn, New York, studied painting at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan in the mid-1950s. After a stint in the Air Force, he moved to Ghana in 1964, where he taught art for several years. Upon his return to New York in the early 1970s, he aligned himself with the Black Arts Movement and began to illustrate Afro-centric children’s books. It was during this period that he first had the idea for The Middle Passage: White Ships, Black Cargos. Ironically, that idea was inspired by the work of Malcolm Bailey, whose Separate but Equal series was being lauded by the art world and exhibited at the Whitney Annual in 1970. But Feelings’ opinions about the young Bailey’s paintings differed from those of the critics who lauded him and he therefore disagreed with Bailey’s choice of spare and vacant minimalism to portray such a seminal African American icon. At the core, Feelings believed that Bailey’s work did not possess the depth of compassion needed to treat the subject of the Middle Passage, he also disapproved of Bailey’s use of the slave ship icon to interpret issues of race relations and integration. Feelings began making the illustrations for his book in 1974, with the idea that they might serve as some sort of memorial to the Middle Passage, something that, in his oipinion, Bailey’s project failed to do. Nevertheless, his paintings provided the kernel of thought for Feelings’ book project, but it would take nearly 20 years for him to complete it.

44It is probably worth reiterating how much Feelings’ illustrations for The Middle Passage: White Ships, Black Cargos occupy a place in the black American imagination, if not the public consciousness in general. These illustrations were also used on the cover of Charles Johnson’s popular 1990 novel, Middle Passage, and as storyboard illustrations for Stephen Speilberg’s 1997 film, Amistad. From 1998 until his death in 2005, Feelings traveled around the country, giving slide-illustrated lectures about the genealogy of his book project and its memorial implications.

45The stained glass window, dedicated as the Maafa Remembrance 2000 East Communion Window at the New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, is part of a larger discussion about paying tribute to the legacy of the Middle Passage. As the Rev. Hatch has commented, “It’s more than just church art, it’s part of contemporary discourse—political and moral—on how to repair African People” (Walters, 2000, 24). “Maafa” is a Swahili word meaning great struggle and the New Mount Pilgrim community hopes to imbue this word with the similar type of significance as the Jews use of the word Holocaust.

46But the Maafa Remembrance 2000 East Communion Window is also part of a larger contemporary wave of iconoclasm, where predominantly black congregations around the country are replacing white figures with black figures in biblical art and stained glass. As Rev. Gregory Thomas, an adjunct faculty at the Harvard Divinity School has said, “It’s very important for people of color, but also others, to see that there are other icons and that they see themselves within those images. These are just pictures, but they have powerful meanings… That’s why the Middle Passage picture is so important and we need to tell our children what this means” (Fountain, 2001, C1). Another stained glass window at New Mount Pilgrim, Lift Holy Hands, replaces white figures with all black figures, including a Christ figure that wears an Afro.

47Surrounding the central image of the arisen black (Christ figure, smaller circular stained glass windows spell out the word “remembrance”. At the very bottom, three circular windows depict an image of Africa, the communion ritual with wine and bread, and the dedication panel with the words “Maafa 2000”. The stained glass window then is clearly meant as a memorial. As the Rev. Hatch announced in his dedication speech, “Maafa Remembrance 2000 not only acknowledges their humanity, but the memorial acknowledges their loss to humanity, and declares that we can neither be whole, or healed, or reconciled without their remembrance as part of our consciousness.” (Hatch, 2000). As a memorial, the Maafa Remembrance 2000 window has been responsible for attracting not only new parishioners and a large number of tourists. In fact, according to the Rev. Hatch, the widespread appeal of the stained glass window is not only welcome, but also part of the overall pedagogical goal of creating the window. After all, the Maafa Remembrance 2000 window is part of a larger project that involves educating people about the history of slavery and the Middle Passage. In the words of the Rev. Hatch, it is “a contribution to the twenty-first century work of reconciliation” (Hatch, 2000).


Works cited

Baraka, Amiri. [LeRoi Jones] 1961. Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note. New York: Totem Press.

——— 1963. Blues People: Negro Music in White America. New York: William Morrow and Co.

——— 1964. Dutchman and the Slave. New York: William Morrow and Company.

——— 1965. The System of Dante’s Hell. New York: Grove Press.

——— 1966. Home: Social Essays (New York: William Morrow and Company). 1998. Rpt. Home: Social Essays. Hopewell, NJ: Ecco Press.

——— 1968. Black Music. New York: William Morrow and Company.

——— 1969a. Slave Ship: A One Act Play. Newark: Jihad Productions.

——— 1969b. Four Black Revolutionary Plays. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company.

——— Black Magic: Collected Poetry, 1961-1967. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company.

——— 1970. In Our Terribleness. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company.

——— 1979. It’s Nation Time. Chicago: Third World Press.

Barnes, Clive. 1969. “The Theater: New LeRoi Jones Play.” The New York Times, Saturday, November 22, 46.

Brown, Lloyd W. 1980. Amiri Baraka. Boston: Twayne Publishers.

Du Bois, W. Ε. Β. 1973 [1896], The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870. Milwood, New York: Kraus-Thomson Organization Limited.

Fax, Elton C. 1973. Seventeen Black Artists. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company.

Feelings, Tom. 1995. The Middle Passage: White Ships, Black Cargo. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers.

Fine honig, Elsa. 1973. The Afro-American Artist: A Search For Identity. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc.

Finley, Cheryl. 1999. “Committed to Memory: The Slave Ship Icon in the Black Atlantic Imagination.” Chicago Art Journal 9, Spring, 2-21.

——— 2001. “The Door of No Return.” Common Place Vol. 1. No. 4:

Fountain, John. 2001. “Church’s Window on the Past, and the Future.” The New York Times, February 9.

Glueck, Grace. 1969. “Minority Artists find a welcome New Showcase.” The New York Times, December 23, 21.

Harris, William J. Ed. 1991. Amiri Baraka, The LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press.

Hatch, Rev. Marshall E. 2000. “Maafa Remembrance 2000 Dedication Speech,”

Hughues, Langston & Milton meltzer. 1956. A Pictorial History of the Negro in America. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc.

Isaac, Dan. 1971. “The Death of the Proscenium Stage.” The Antioch Review, Summer.

Jacobs, Jay. 1970. “A Bridge to the Future.” Art Gallery, XIII, April, 50-51.

Ngaboh-Smart, Francis. 1999. “The Politics of Black Identity: Slave Ship and Woza Albert!” Journal of African Cultural Studies, Vol. 12, No. 2., December, 181-182.

Phillips, Louis. 1978. “LeRoi Jones and Contemporary Black Drama.” In The Black American Writer. Volume II: Poetry and Drama. Ed. C.W.E. Bigsby. Deland, Florida: Everett/Edwards, Inc., 206.

Rose, Barbara. 1970. “Black Art in America.” Art in America LVIII, September-October, 62.

Schmidt Campbell, Mary. 1985. Tradition and Conflict: Images of a Turbulent Decade, 1963-1973. New York: Studio Museum in Harlem.

Walters, Sabrina. 2000. “Glass Recalls Slavery’s Horror.” Chicago Sun Times, December, 17: 24.


1 On March 25, 1807, the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act went into effect in Great Britain and her colonies. On March 2, 1807, the United States Congress approved a bill to abolish the slave trade, which was enacted on January 1, 1808. While these two legislative acts curtailed the slave trade significantly, the illegal slave trade continued nearly until the end of the nineteenth century, despite the efforts of British and American naval blockades. Chattel slavery as an institution in the British colonies was not abolished until 1833, with the Slavery Abolition Act, which freed all slaves in the British Empire in 1834, and in the United States, until 1865, with the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. See Du Bois (1973 [1896]).

2 On April 21, 1968, 100 black students took over Willard Straight Hall at Cornell University, demanding Africana Studies curricula and other resources for black students. This led to the first Africana Studies Department, the Africana Studies and Research Center, at an Ivy League research institution. The same year, at University of California, Berkeley, students rallied to demand courses and funding for Ethnic Studies. In 1969, Arno Press began reprinting classic literary and historical texts by black authors. Similarly, academic journals dedicated to black studies were begun and popular periodicals, such as Ebony and Jet, saw their subscriptions rise astronomically.

3 According to the poet Haki R. Madhubuti (Don L. Lee), Amiri Baraka is “the acknowledged father” of the Black Arts Movement. Today, he remains a vibrant, creative force in the African-American literary and performing arts, and a central figure in the formation of that canon. Baraka’s art spans more than four decades and can be divided into the following periods: the Beat Period, 1957-1962; the Transnational Period, 1963-1965; the Black Nationalist Period, 1965-1974; and the Third World/Marxist Period 1975-present. He has published seven nonfiction books, a novel and thirteen volumes of poetry, and produced more than twenty plays and three jazz operas. Baraka has been the recipient of grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, among other institutions. He has been an important political activist, rallying for black legislative representation in his hometown of Newark, New Jersey, as well as in the larger national political arena (Harris, 1991, xvii-xxxiii).

4 In 1974. Baraka rejected Black Nationalism and converted to a form of international socialism, which he calls Third World Marxism (Harris, 1991, xii-xxxii).

5 Baraka described Revolutionary Theatre as “the force… of twenty million spooks storming America with furious cries and unstoppable weapons… peopled with new kinds of heroes ready to die for what’s on their minds” (Baraka, 1966, 214-215).

6 The first production of Slave Ship was directed by Baraka at Spirit House in Newark, New Jersey and ran from March 1967 to an undetermined closing date receiving little, if any, critical attention. A community-based theatre arts center established by Jones in 1966 in an old warehouse in Jones’s home town, Spirit House and its production company, the Sprit House Movers, were modeled after Jones’s community-based Black Arts Repertory Theatre, which produced plays, concerts and poetry readings with black subject matter for “the education and cultural awakening of the Black People in America” and for exclusively black audiences in the streets of Harlem, New York from spring 1965 to spring 1966, when it was forced to close. The poets Yusef Iman and Ed Spriggs, the musicians Pharaoh Saunders and Sun Ra, and playwrights Ben Caldwell and Ed Bullins were associated with Spirit House early on. Jihad was the publishing house founded by Baraka associated with Spirit House

7 To date, my attempts to get photographic documentation of design drawings of the set have failed. In a conversation with Baraka, he suggested that the set was destroyed by a disgruntled audience, following a performance of the play in Europe some years ago. Conversation with Amiri Baraka, February 23, 2002.

8 More than 30 years later, Robert Farris Thompson, is still haunted by the experience of Baraka’s Slave Ship. He attended (and participated in) that play on three consecutive nights of performances. Thompson especially recalls how the architectural rendering of the set, stage and seating produced a sense of being inside of the space that the slave ship icon depicts. Conversation with Robert Farris Thompson, December 17, 2001.

9 In the opening of the play we hear the sound of African drums and the plantation scene is marked by the music of the banjo, for example. In Blues People, Baraka suggested that music presented itself as one of “the most apparent legacies of the African past, even to the contemporary black American” (Baraka, 1963).

10 Cinque Gallery was operated as a not-for-profit center established with funds from the Urban Center at Columbia University (Fax, 1973, 144).

11 In the aftermath of the March on Washington in 1963, Charles Alston, Romare Bearden, Hale Woodruff, Alvin Hollingsworth, Norman Lewis, Felraith Hines and Merton Simpson joined together to form Spiral Group, a collective of artists who took on the civil rights movement as a theme in their work. The Black Emergency Cultural Coalition (BECC) was organized by the artists Benny Andrews and Cliff Joseph initially to protest the controversial exhibition Harlem on My Mind, held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York from January 18 to April 6.1969. The Black Arts Movement was part of a larger cultural and political explosion nationwide, where, for instance, black college students at predominantly white institutions demanded the establishment of Afro-American Studies departments. See Fine, 1973, 198-210.

12 Murals, such as the Wall of Respect by Eugene Wade, Bill Walker, Jeff Donaldson and other members of the Chicago-based artists/writers collective Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC), depicted important black revolutionary figures along with symbolic images of black pride (Fine, 1973, 200).

13 See Enrique García-Herraiz, “Crónica de Nueva York,” for a review of the Whitney Annual in which Hold: Separate but Equal is illustrated but not discussed.

14 The form of this cross-section resembles those pictured in the nineteenth century engravings of the captured slave ships Josefa Maracayera and Vigilante.

15 Some of his later works incorporate the same iconic figure, for example, Untitled No. 7, a brightly-colored enamel on plexi-glass painting that was exhibited in his one man show at the William Zierler Gallery in New York in 1972 (Fine, 1973, 277). According to Fine, Bailey had seen the work of Ernest Trova, an artist who drew similar figurative in his Index series published by Pace Editions in New York in 1969 (Fine, 1973, 274).

16 Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 introduced the “separate but equal doctrine” in public transportation, not education. Nevertheless, “separate but equal” was applied to all areas of black civil rights, incluiding education.

17 The art historian Eisa Honig Fine interviewed Malcolm Bailey on June 8, 1972 for her book The Afro-American Artist: A Search For Identity. (Honig Fine, 1973, 272).

Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. 1. Plan of an African Ship’s lower deck with Negroes in the Proportion of only one to a Ton, 1789
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Légende Fig. 2. Description of a Slave Ship, 1789
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Légende Fig. 3. Malcolm Bailey with his Separate but Equal Series at the inaugural opening of Cinque Gallery, New York City, December 1969. Copyright Don Hogan Charles/the New York Times/Redux
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Enseignant-chercheur dans le Département d’Histoire de l’Art à l’Université de Cornell, elle était détachée dans le Département d’Etudes Africaines et Africaines-Américaines à l’Université de Harvard pendant le deuxième semestre 2007. Elle est également critique d’art et conservateur, spécialiste de photographie, d’art africain-américain. Elle travaille sur le tourisme culturel et les politiques de mémorialisation. Elle a publié de nombreux livres, essais et articles dont Harlem Guaranteed : The Photograpic Legacy of James VanDerZee (2002). Elle achève en ce moment un manuscrit sur la mémoire culturelle des navires négriers ainsi qu’une monographie sur l’artiste Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons. Ses photographies de Selling Katrina sur le tourisme à la Nouvelle Orléans après le passage de l’ouragan Katrina ont fait l’objet d’expositions à New York et à Philadelphie.
A Visiting Assistant Professor of Art History in the Department of African and African American Studies at Harvard University on leave during the spring semester of 2007 from Cornell University where she teaches in the History of Art Department. She is also an art critic, columnist and curator specializing in photography, African-American art, cultural heritage tourism and the politics of memorialization. She is the author of many books, essays and articles, including Harlem Guaranteed: The Photographic Legacy of James VanDerZee (2002) and is currently completing a manuscript on the cultural memory of the slave ship icon as well as a monograph on the artist Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons. Her photographs from Selling Katrina, a project on disaster tourism, have been exhibited in New York and at the Philadelphia Afro-American Museum.

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