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Smalls, James, and . African-American Self-Portraiture

2001, Third Text, pp. 47-62.

Summary: As ‘always already’ racialized object of the white patriarchal look African-Americans have enduringly suffered from having to negotiate notions of the self from a crisis position. The act of self-portraiture for the African-American artist has the value of bestowing upon the self-portraitist a sense of empowerment.

Comment: Useful in discussing portraiture and depiction, as well as empowerment and art's role in power relations in general.

Artworks to use with this text:

Lyle Ashton Harris, Construct #10 (collection of the artist, 1988)

Harris's self-portraits are redemptive and liberatory in their focus on the self. They challenge standard discourse on identity and subjectivity to present a new sign of black power and liberation. Because his photographs expose gender as constructed and performed, they also, in the process, subvert phallocentrism and compulsory heterosexuality.

Strother, Z.S., and . “A Photograph Steals the Soul”: The History of an Idea

2013, in: John Peffer and Elisabeth L. Cameron (eds.), Portraiture & Photography in Africa, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, pp. 177-212.

Summary: Traces the origins of, and eventually challenges, the idea that many people in non-industrialized countries refused to have their photographic portrait taken due to the belief that it would steal their soul. Investigates and refutes the evidence provided by Richard Andree, James Napier, James G. Frazer. With references to C.S. Peirce, Rosalind Krauss, Susan Sontag.

Comment: Useful in aesthetics classes discussing portraiture, depiction and representation, as well as social and political philosophy classes focused on racial and cultural stereotyping.

Artworks to use with this text:

Antoine Freitas, self-portrait with handmade box camera in Bena Mulumba, Kasaï Province (1939)

A masterpiece of composition, showing the photographer at work, surrounded by children and women who would normally be kept away from recognized sorcerers (thereby demonstrating that the photographer was not considered an evil soul-stealing sorcerer).