This book examines how African-American writers and visual artists interweave icon and inscription in order to re-present the black female body, traditionally rendered alien and inarticulate within Western discursive and visual systems. Brown considers how the writings of Toni Morrison, Gayl Jones, Paule Marshall, Edwidge Danticat, Jamaica Kincaid, Andrea Lee, Gloria Naylor, and Martha Southgate are bound to such contemporary, postmodern visual artists as Lorna Simpson, Carrie Mae Weems, Kara Walker, Betye Saar, and Faith Ringgold. While the artists and authors rely on radically different media—photos, collage, video, and assembled objects, as opposed to words and rhythm—both sets of intellectual activists insist on the primacy of the black aesthetic. Both assert artistic agency and cultural continuity in the face of the oppression, social transformation, and cultural multiplicity of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. This book examines how African-American performative practices mediate the tension between the ostensibly de-racialized body politic and the hyper-racialized black, female body, reimagining the cultural and political ground that guides various articulations of American national belonging. Brown shows how and why black women writers and artists matter as agents of change, how and why the form and content of their works must be recognized and reconsidered in the increasingly frenzied arena of cultural production and political debate.

chapter |18 pages


Gaps and Contradictions—Righting the Black Body in the White Text

chapter 1|13 pages

The Poetics of Late Capitalism and the Black Cultural Imaginary

Revising Modernity's Archive through Postmodern Praxis

chapter 2|42 pages

A Complicated Anger

The Performative Body as Postmodern Bricolage

chapter 3|34 pages

The Haunted Echo and the Riddle of the Word

The Black Musical Tradition as the Renegotiation of Identity in Lorna Simpson, Gayl Jones, and Toni Morrison

chapter 4|40 pages

When the Circle Has Been Broken and No Words Can Heal the Pain

Possession-Performance as Ritual Mourning in Carrie Mae Weems, Paule Marshall, and Edwidge Danticat

chapter 5|43 pages

The Silenced Tongue, a Rebellious Art

The Body as Tableau in Betye Saar, Gloria Naylor, and Martha Southgate

chapter 6|45 pages

The Scopic and the Scene

The Aesthetics of Spectatorship and the Destabilization of the Racial Gaze in Kara Walker, Andrea Lee, and Jamaica Kincaid

chapter |10 pages


Reclaiming History through Postmodern Performance—Faith Ringgold's Pastiche