Huey Copeland is an Associate Professor of Art History and affiliated faculty in the Critical Theory Cluster, the Gender and Sexuality Studies Program, and the Departments of African American Studies, Art Theory & Practice, and Performance Studies at Northwestern University. His research and teaching focus on modern and contemporary art with an emphasis on articulations of blackness in the Western visual field. A Contributing Editor of Artforum, Copeland has published in journals ranging from American Art to Small Axeas well as in numerous international exhibition catalogues and essay collections. The author of Bound to Appear: Art, Slavery, and the Site of Blackness in Multicultural America, published in 2013 by the University of Chicago Press, Copeland is currently at work on a suite of book projects that further explore the intersections of race, gender, and the aesthetic in the modern world.
In my current book project, In the Shadow of the Negress: Modern Artistic Practice in the Transatlantic World, I interrogate the ways that race intersects with gender in artistic depictions of black womanhood, typified by representations of the “negress.” This recurring figure within European and American art takes us from Marie-Guillemine Benoist’s Portrait d’une négresse(1800) to the silhouettes of contemporary artist Kara Walker, who reimagines slavery from the perspective of, in her words, “an Emancipated Negress.” Ultimately, I contend, these fictions of African diasporic womanhood provide a productive lens for fundamentally recasting our narratives of modern and contemporary art.
While questions of race and gender have assumed central places in other areas of humanistic inquiry, art-historical discourse has been comparatively slow on the uptick. Recently, scholars have begun to explore the visual history of black womanhood; art historians have pointed out the significance of black female bodies in canonical European paintings; and the mainstream art world has afforded black women practitioners increased critical attention. My work moves between and beyond these discourses, wending a path through a carefully selected set of episodes, figures, practices, and institutions in order to provide the first racially integrated and gender-balanced account of modern art.
PHOTO: Bonnie Robinson for The Graduate School, 2017