Corporeal Resurfacings: Faustin Linyekula, Nick Cave and Thornton Dial

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2013

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Moten, Fred

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Abstract

"Corporeal Resurfacings: Faustin Linyekula, Nick Cave and Thornton Dial," examines art and performance works by three contemporary black artists. My dissertation is opened by the analytic of black female flesh provided by Hortense Spillers in her monumental essay, "Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: An American Grammar Book." Drawing on Spillers, I argue that it is not the black female body but the material persistence and force of that body, expressed through the flesh, that needs to be theorized and resituated directly with respect to current discourses that take up black ontology, black subjectivity and black aesthetics. I expand Spillers' conclusions to an analysis of how the materiality of this flesh continues to structure, organize and inflect contemporary aesthetic interventions and performances of blackness in the present. The five chapters that comprise the dissertation map a specific set of problems that emerge from a tangled web of gender, race and performance. I argue that black female flesh, forged through desire and violence, objection and subjectivity, becomes the ground for and the space through which black masculinity is fashioned and articulated as open, variable, and contested within artistic practices.

Examining the work of these artists, I identify a set of practices that channel this neglected black flesh as a site of aesthetic reclamation and recovery. Focusing on the art of collage and assemblage and its techniques of cutting, pasting, quoting and tearing I demonstrate how black identity is always assembled identity. Moreover, I demonstrate how artistic assemblage makes visible the dense and immeasurable compressions of race, gender and sexuality that have accumulated over time. I argue that these practices offer us unique opportunities to inhabit this flesh. The dissertation expands upon connections between visibility, solidarity, materiality and femininity, bringing them to light for a critical discussion of the unique expressions and co-productions of blackness and sexuality in the fields of visual art and performance. I draw upon thinkers who help me think about the material status of black female flesh and its reproductive value. The project aligns itself with current black scholarly work that treats not simply black subjectivity but blackness itself as central to an understanding of a history of devaluation that subtends the historical construction of modern subjectivity. I theorize how the degraded materiality of blackness, linked to the violent rupturing of black flesh, indexes a deeper history of devaluation that becomes the very condition for and means of qualifying and substantiating our definitions of subjectivity and personhood. I conclude by tracing an aesthetic community or aesthetic sociality grounded in the recovered, lost materiality of Spillers' ungendered black female flesh, a community that I argue, may be glimpsed through particular instantiations of the flesh in art and performance.

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Bradley, Rizvana (2013). Corporeal Resurfacings: Faustin Linyekula, Nick Cave and Thornton Dial. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/7245.

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