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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures : English Literature

Undergraduate Course: Contemporary African American and Black British Visual Culture (ENLI10386)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Literatures, Languages and Cultures CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course introduces students to twentieth and twenty-first century African American and Black British artists for whom the fight for the right to power over the word let alone over the image is a fight that is far from over. As Black artist, Charles White declared, it is not only 'words' but 'images' that are 'weapons' in the arsenal of historic and contemporary Black freedom and resistance movements. Living and dying against a centuries long backdrop of US plantation slavery, segregation, lynchlaw and an unending struggle for civil, moral, social, and political rights in a contemporary Black Lives Matter era, African American and Black British artists have and continue to experience a difficult relationship with dominant iconographic no less than narrative modes. White mainstream cultures work to invisibilise, distort and deny Black histories, memories, and narratives over the centuries. Given the fact that literacy was obtained on pain of death - during the height of chattel slavery, an enslaved person's success in learning to read and write was met with terrible persecution and bloody reprisals from white racists intent on the subjugation of Black peoples - a vast majority of Black women and men on both sides of the Atlantic turned to visual culture out of necessity to bring their stories to life. While only a few individuals were able to gain access to pen and paper to write their story down, vast numbers were able to commemorate their lives by using the materials they found around them on the plantations. These included stone to make sculptures; wood to make carved figures; beads to make necklaces; animal hides to make instruments; found objects to make religious altars; fabric to make quilts. This course will introduce students to a number of artists working in the last fifty years in order to trace the alternative narrative practices and storytelling traditions that remain integral to different forms of Black visual cultures in the UK and US. Using images and not words, African American and Black British artists rely on their art-making practices to disseminate histories, memories, narratives as they come to grips with lives that have been written out of the history books let alone the dominant literary and artistic cultures. In this course, we will examine the ways in which Black artists work not with a textual but with a visual language to tell the stories of missing Black lives across their paintings, sculptures, drawings, quilting, ceramics, woodcarving, photography, murals, posters, digital, installation, video and performance art.
This is an introductory course which assumes no prior knowledge either of Black Studies or art historical analysis. No student needs to come with any prior experience of reading images or understanding visual culture as they will be provided with all the necessary analytical tools they need during the course.
Course description This course will provide students with an overall knowledge and understanding of twentieth and twenty-first century African American and Black British visual culture and art-making traditions in the UK and US by examining the paintings, drawings, sculpture, ceramics, quilts, murals, posters, performance, video, digital, and street art produced by artists working in the last fifty years. This course will require no prior understanding of academic practices within art history: all the necessary analytical tools will be provided within the course and will directly draw upon the skills that students have already developed in literary analysis and critical theory. This course will not only examine the individual works produced by each of these artists but will situate these non-textual objects within their wider cultural, literary, historical, political, social, and aesthetic contexts. The major themes and concerns will include: race and representation; identity politics; bodily trauma; psychological suffering; gender inequalities; aesthetic experimentation; radicalism and resistance; history; oral memories; family traditions;. This course will also address fundamental formal dimensions including colour and composition as well as the aesthetic and political implications of creating paintings, drawings, murals, posters, sculpture, performance and digital art.
On the basis of students' preparatory reading around artists and their artworks and their examination of artists - and critics - writings as drawn from a range of disciplines, seminars will be used to discuss the visual, cultural, literary, philosophical, historical, psychological, social, and political implications of different forms of African American and Black British visual culture. In order to fully prepare for these seminar discussions, students will be required to meet in advance in smaller 'autonomous learning groups' to produce material which will be presented to the class in a variety of forms (written reports posted to the course vle, informal contributions to class discussion, or more formal verbal presentations during the seminar). Active preparation for and participation in class discussion is required, and will be assessed as a part of the student's overall performance on the course.
The structure of reading and analysis on the course is broadly comparative: students will be asked to explore the similarities and differences between the set artists and artworks, and examine the various types of analysis made possible by the critical and theoretical modes of visual culture to which they are introduced. The guided examination of the similarities and differences between the range of artists and art objects and approaches studied will help students to develop the analytical skills and knowledge that will be assessed in their essays. Due to the vast number of still unexamined artworks within African American and Black British visual culture traditions - 'new' works are being unearthed and 'new' artists are making themselves known on the cultural and political scene all the time - there is plenty of scope for students to undertake original research and develop new theoretical models that will shed light on key formal and thematic dimensions of these works created by Black artists and which still remain vastly under-researched.
The course is assessed by two essays, one to be completed by Week 10 of the course and one to be written during the exam period, and an assessment of students' participation in class and their autonomous learning groups. Written feedback will be provided on each element of assessment, and further oral follow-up feedback from the tutor will be available for anyone who would like it.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Students MUST have passed: ( Literary Studies 1A (ENLI08020) AND Literary Studies 1B (ENLI08021) OR English Literature 1 (ENLI08001) AND Scottish Literature 1 (ENLI08016)) AND ( Literary Studies 2A: English Literature in the World, 1380-1788 (ENLI08024) AND Literary Studies 2B: English Literature in the World, post-1789 (ENLI08025) OR Scottish Literature 2A (ENLI08022) AND Scottish Literature 2B (ENLI08023) OR English Literature 2 (ENLI08003) AND Scottish Literature 2 (ENLI08004))
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Construct original, clear and coherent arguments concerning the representation of histories, memories, narratives, and bodies within African American and Black British visual culture traditions
  2. Develop the necessary interdisciplinary skills in order to evaluate a wide range of primary and secondary source materials
  3. Analyse artworks using recognised critical methodologies to substantiate and illustrate those arguments
  4. Extrapolate, evaluate and assess ideas from a range of textual as well as visual sources in order to bring them to bear on their analyses of the ways in which Black Lives Matter in African American and Black British art-making traditions
  5. Orally present the results of research undertaken individually and as part of a small group, respond judiciously to such research undertaken by others, and critically evaluate the importance of such material for an understanding of the chief themes of the course
Reading List
Ian Baucom, Sonia Boyce, Leon Wainwright and David A. Bailey, Shades of Black: Assembling Black Art in 1980s Britain. Durham: Duke University Press, 2005.
Bearden, Romare and Harry Henderson. A History of African-American Arts: From 1792 to the Present. New York: Pantheon Books, 1993.
Celeste-Marie Bernier, Stick to the Skin: African American and Black British Art (1965-2015). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2018.
Celeste-Marie Bernier, African American Visual Arts: From Slavery to the Present. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008.
Eddie Chambers, Black Artists in British Art: A History from 1950 to the Present. London: I. B. Tauris, 2014.
Eddie Chambers, Things Done Change: The Cultural Politics of Recent Black Artists in Britain. New York: Rodopi, 2011.
Gen Doy, Black Visual Culture. Modernity and Postmodernity. London: I. B. Tauris, 2000.
Lisa Farrington, African-American Art: A Visual and Cultural History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.
bell hooks, Art on My Mind: Visual Politics. New York: The New Press, 1995.
Samella Lewis, African American Art and Artists. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.
Kobena Mercer, Travel and See: Black Diaspora Art Practices Since the 1980s. Durham: Duke University Press, 2016.
Sharon F. Patton, African American Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Richard A. Powell, Black Art: A Cultural History. London: Thames and Hudson, 2002.
Robert Farris Thompson, Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy. New York:Vintage, 1984.
Michele Wallace, Dark Designs and Visual Culture. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004.

Rasheed Araeen, ed. The Essential Black Art. London: Chisenahale Gallery, 1988.
Arnett, William and Paul Arnett, eds. Souls Grown Deep: African American Vernacular Art of the South. Volume One. Atlanta: Tinwood, 2005:
Sutapa Biswas, Griselda Pollock, Guy Brett, Laura Mulvey, and Ian Baucom eds. Sutapa Biswas. London: Institute of International Visual Arts, 2004.
Dan Cameron, ed. Dancing at the Louvre: Faith Ringgold's French Collection and Other Story Quilts. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1995.
Kathryn Delmez, ed. Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012.
Okwui Enwezor, Frank Bowling: Mappa Mundi. London: Prestel, 2017.
Richard J. Gruber. American Icons: From Madison to Manhattan, the Art of Benny Andrews, 1948-1997. Augusta, GA: Morris Museum of Art, 1997.
Lubaina Himid, Thin Black Line(s). London: Making Histories Visible Project, Centre for Contemporary Art, UCLAN, 2011.
Richard Hylton, ed. Donald Rodney: Doublethink. London: Autograph, 1999.
Richard Marshall, ed. Jean-Michel Basquiat. New York: Whitney Abrams, 1992.
Kobena Mercer, Keith Piper: Relocating the Remains. London: Institute for International Visual Arts, 1997.
Lynda Morris, Vanley Burke: By the Rivers of Birmingham. Birmingham: Birmingham MAC, 2012.
Eugene W. Metcalf and Joanne Cubbs, eds., Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial. New York: Prestel, 2011.
Judith Nesbitt, ed. Chris Ofili. London: Tate Publishing, 2010.
Rebecca Peabody, Consuming Stories: Kara Walker and the Imagining of American Race. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2016.
Franklin Sirmans, Yael Lipschutz, and Noah Purifoy, eds. Noah Purifoy: Junk Dada. New York: Prestel, 2015.
Mark Sloan, ed. Something To Take My Place: The Art of Lonnie Holley. Charleston SC: Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, 2015.
James Christen Steward, ed. Betye Saar: Extending the Frozen Moment. Berkeley CA: University of California Press, 2005.
Jeremy Strick and Alex Potts, Melvin Edwards: Five Decades. Dallas: Nasher Sculpture Center, 2015.
Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Naomi Beckwith, Donatien Grau, and Jennifer Higgie eds. Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. London: Prestel, 2014.

Aguilar, Margarita J. ed. Caribbean Art at the Crossroads of the World. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012.
Arnett, William S. and Laura Beckford eds. History Refused to Die: The Enduring Legacy of African American Art in Alabama. Atlanta: Tinwood Books, 2015.
Ascherson, Neale ed. Shocks to the System: Social and Political issues in Recent British Art from the Arts Council Collection. London: South Bank Centre, 1991.
Banks, Patricia. Represent: Art and Identity Among the Black Upper-Middle Class. New York: Routledge, 2009.
Barson, Tanya, ed. Afro-Modern: Journeys through the Black Atlantic. London: Tate Publishing, 2010.
Beauchamp-Byrd, Mora J. ed. Transforming the Crown African, Asian and Caribbean Artists in Britian 1966- 1996. New York: Caribbean Cultural Center, 1997.
Benjamin, Tritobia. Bearing Witness: Contemporary Works by African American Women Artists. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 1996.
Bernier, Celeste-Marie and Hannah Durkins, eds. Visualising Slavery: Art Across the African Diaspora. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2016.
Carby, Hazel V. Cultures in Babylon: Black Britain and African America. New York: Verso, 1999.
Collins, Lisa Gail. The Art of History: African American Women Artists Engage the Past. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2002.
Ghosh, Amal and Juginder Lamba, eds. Beyond Frontiers: Contemporary British Art by Artists of South Asian Descent. London: Saffron Books, 2001.
Hall, Stuart and Mark Sealy, eds. Different: A Historical Context. New York: Phaidon, 2001.
Kerman, Monique. Contemporary British Artists of African Descent and the Unburdening of a Generation. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.
Rice, Alan. Creating Memorials, Building Identities: The Politics of Memory in the Black Atlantic. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2012.
Wainwright, Leon. Phenomenal Difference: A Philosophy of Black British Art. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2017.
Additional Information
Course URL
Graduate Attributes and Skills As an outcome of having studied this course, students will benefit from having developed a range of personal and professional skills commensurate with the range of SCQF Level 10 characteristics:
Knowledge and understanding: students will have had the opportunity to demonstrate their critical understanding of a range of the principal theories and concepts of textual and visual analysis in relation to their interpretation and discussion of the course material;
Applied Knowledge, Skills and Understanding: in their work for class discussion, presentations and formal assessment tasks, students will have been able to practice the application of these theories and concepts in their construction of arguments about the course material;
Generic Cognitive Skills: in completing assessed essays and class presentations, students will have practiced identifying, defining, conceptualising and analysing complex problems and issues germane to the discipline;
Communication: through participating in these tasks students will also have demonstrated the ability to communicate ideas and information about specialised topics in the discipline to an informed audience of their peers and subject specialists;
Autonomy and Working with Others: students will also have shown the capacity to work autonomously and in small groups on designated tasks, develop new thinking with their peers, and take responsibility for the reporting, analysis and defence of these ideas to a larger group.
Additional Class Delivery Information Two-hour seminar per week for 10 weeks; plus one-hour Autonomous Learning Group per week at time to be arranged
Course organiserProf Celeste-Marie Bernier
Tel: (0131 6)50 4114
Course secretaryMiss Helene Thomsen
Tel: (0131 6)50 3618
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