Towards a Poetics of Bafflement
My current research, “Towards a Poetics of Bafflement: The Politics of Elsewhere in Contemporary Black Diaspora Visual Practice (1990-Present)” argues for the importance of the psychic and affective spaces that emerge in the work of contemporary black women and queer artists. Utilizing a theory of bafflement—that which confuses and frustrates—the order of knowledge that deems black subjectivities as pathological, a poetics of bafflement is foregrounded by racial slavery and diaspora formations that inform contemporary racial antagonisms. The visual work of Ayana Jackson, Deana Lawson, Zanele Muholi, and Mickalene Thomas, if read through a poetics of bafflement, engages blackness differently and conceptualizes new possibilities for world making, particularly in an era of globalization and encounter. Black artists have long since occupied spaces of creative and critical thinking about aesthetics, race, and the politics of vision, which inform contemporary social, historical, and cultural climates.
Multiculturalism and subsequent post-race concepts are inadequate in thinking about alternative possibilities of world making as they suggest racism and anti-black sentiment are somehow no longer prevalent. Multiculturalism’s claim of diversity negates the continued logics of anti-black sentiment, whereas post-racial suggests a time and place in history where race no longer informs political, economic, and socio-cultural experiences. Black cultural production continues to be at the crossroads of these debates. The complex interplay between race anxieties and the politics of contemporary visual culture remains opaque, even as it proliferates. Ayana Jackson, Deana Lawson, Zanele Muholi, and Mickalene Thomas are among a generation of artists who have gained a certain level of North American and European recognition. Common to many of these artists is a concern with the limits of form and genre, particularly in relation to the photographic image, the queer body and the undoing of gender, as well as ruminations on desire and the erotic.
Black Affects/ Affects of Blackness
Building on my interests on belonging and aesthetics, my new research project in the early stages of development, reads across a spectrum of works on 18th and 19th century European philosophy and contemporary theories of humanism, race and sexuality in order to arrive at several fundamental questions: What is the relationship of discourses of blackness to debates on aesthetics and freedom? How are affective economies such as optimism, desire, ecstasy and pleasure, articulated in order to mobilize freedom narratives- particularly as it pertains to racial difference? Is feeling blackness linked only to legacies of trauma and pain?