Samantha A. Noël is an associate professor of art history at Wayne State University. She received her B.A. in Fine Art from Brooklyn College, C.U.N.Y., and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Art History from Duke University. Her research interests revolve around the history of art, visual culture and performance of the Black Diaspora. She has published on black modern and contemporary art and performance in journals such as Small Axe, Third Text and Art Journal.
This talk explores aspects of Noël’s book, Tropical Aesthetics of Black Modernism (Duke University Press, February 2021). It offers an investigation of how Caribbean and American artists of the early twentieth century were responding to the colonial and hegemonic regimes through visual and performative tropicalist representation. It privileges the land and how a sense of place is critical in the identity formation of early twentieth-century artists as well as their creative processes. By proposing an alternative understanding of the tropics, this talk demonstrates how Wifredo Lam and Josephine Baker effectively contributed to the development of Black modernity, and even Black sonic modernity. They employed what Noël calls “tropical aesthetics” in an effort to enact the naming of place. Tropical aesthetics allows for a critical imaging and reclaiming of space and proves how through art one can reify social geographies in order to have a sense of place, a rootedness that is desired in order to attain some semblance of sovereignty.
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Image Caption: Wifredo Lam, Malembo, Deity of the Crossroads, 1943. Oil on canvas, 62.2 in x 49.2 in, 158 cm x 125 cm. Collection of B. and I. Rudman, Santo Domingo. The Rudman Trust – private collection. © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ ADAGP, Paris.
Originally published at artdept.nd.edu.