Petrina Dacres


2016-2017: Stuart Hall Fellow

Art and Historicity: The Commemorative Public Image in Postcolonial Jamaica

Project Description

Art and Historicity: The Commemorative Public Image in Postcolonial Jamaica

In postcolonial Jamaica between independence (1962) and the turn of the century public sculpture became the focus around which ideas of the modern nation and the past were projected, shaped and contested. Using case studies the project demonstrates how commemorative monuments have been integral to the establishment of power in the public-historical sphere, an under-researched area in Caribbean studies. Monuments are viewed in relation to other techniques of visuality to detail the complex spectatorial process through which the citizenry constitutes itself as a subject of historical power. How was the field of public representation altered to refashion and redeem the politico-historical self for governmentality? How has this processed been challenged?

This research project aims to: (a) link Jamaican monuments to other conventions of representation of the past; (b) situate the position of Jamaican monuments in changing cultural, political and interpretive climates; (c) present them as active sites of negotiations about aesthetics, history and memory, the nation, social identities and the body; and, d) consider the objecthood of such memorial images – materiality, technique, circulation and afterlife in different genres.

The case study method provides a comparative perspective that demonstrates the continuities and fissures in the process of shaping a national history and identity within the fifty years of independence. What are the inherent and unresolved tensions and contradictions in the cultural and aesthetic initiatives of the post-colonial state? Other methods include archival and historical research, interviews and different types of detail visual analysis that explore the production, consumption and circulation of art objects. The work is interdisciplinary, drawing on and intervening in scholarship in Memory Studies, Art History and Material Culture, and on the Caribbean and African Diaspora. The study also contributes to conversations in Cultural Studies on depictions of the black body in public culture.

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