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Visualizing In/Emergence and Race, Aesthetics, and the Ethics of Obfuscation

  • Westin Peachtree 210 Peachtree Street Northwest Atlanta, GA, 30303 United States (map)

Visual Caucus with the American Studies Association, sponsors:

Panel: Visualizing In/Emergence and Race, Aesthetics, and the Ethics of Obfuscation

Chair: Sarah Stefana Smith

Panelists: Kyle C. Frisina, Vivian Huang, and Tina Post

This panel initiates a timely discussion of artists' aesthetic and ethical engagements with the interrelated and often racialized dynamics of invisibility, inscrutability, and opacity. Core to the artworks we discuss at the levels of both content and form, these dynamics are related on the one hand to notions of looking and on the other to those of embodied presence. This session is situated, then, at the intersection of key conversations in visual culture and performance studies: analysis of the narratives that attend racial(ized) seeing and elaboration of performance’s and visual culture’s affective register.

Our papers discuss a rich variety of artistic practices and subject positions ranging from black diaspora photographers to Cuban American playwright María Irene Fornés. As the Call for Papers notes, citing Homi Bhabha, “the state of emergency is also always a state of emergence.” In this light, we consider the extent to which the aesthetic and ethical strategies we highlight may have evolved from dynamics read onto racialized bodies, yet serve, too, as generative, radical strategies of expression and resistance in their own right.

In addition to discussing the histories, technologies, and cultural contexts that attend and enable artists’ engagement with invisibility, inscrutability, and opacity, we will also explore the theoretical stakes of these modes in dialogue with one another. We will pose questions about the commonalities and nuances of these different artistic stances; query the stakes for artists' deployment of them in various settings; and, as these dynamics are above all relational, invite inquiry about audience. Finally, we draw on debates about temporality at the heart of both performance studies and visual culture in order to reflect on the emergent aesthetics of invisibility, inscrutability, and opacity as “historically and materially contingent, provisional, and liminal.” At its heart, this panel offers the opportunity to think across media, identity, and disciplines including art history, performance studies, gender and sexuality studies, and critical race studies to ask what it means to think about these tropes collectively—and collectively now.

This panel will follow the format of a traditional paper session. The four papers—presented by scholars at different stages of their academic careers—will be approximately sixteen minutes each, allowing roughly half an hour for questions. After the four presentations, Chair Sarah Stefana Smith will offer brief remarks and pose questions to the panelists before leading the audience in lively dialogue.