University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies
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CHGS

April 10, "A Usable Body: Coaxing the Body Into and Out of Captivity at Black History Museums"

April 10, "A Usable Body: Coaxing the Body Into and Out of Captivity at Black History Museums"

Friday, April 10
12:15 PM - 1:30 PM
1114 Social Sciences
*Free*
RSVP REQUIRED to marydrew@umn.edu

Sociology Workshop Series Presents:

Robyn Autry, Wesleyan University
"A Usable Body: Coaxing the Body Into and Out of Captivity at Black History Museums"


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The visual logic of 'black' identity as a social and historical fact is visible at museum exhibitions depicting the transformation of enslaved Africans to racial citizens. In particular, Professor Autry will focus on the work of the body in narrating this transition at the first black history museum: the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan. She identifies two types of body work: that of the historical object on display - the captive African and the US citizen - along with that of the visitor moving through the physical space of the museum. In the first instance, she considers the visual treatment of the enslaved body in captivity as broken, bowed, beaten and often nude in contrast to the post-abolition period when the body is positioned as erect, individuated, self-possessed and always clothed (even as its body ironically disappears in the process of becoming a subject). During both periods, normative presentations of the body mimic the moral underpinnings of black history as a site of knowledge production and identity.
Building on this, Professor Autry considers how the visitor's body is oriented both to the narratives on display and to the built environment of the museum itself. Just as the transition from slavery to citizenship is materialized through images of poised, able bodies, she argues that the museum works to construct visitors as similarly poised and able-bodied subjects. These problematic around subject-object relations illustrate that spectatorship cannot be divorced from the racialized imagination that produces and then privileges certain forms of embodied subjecthood over others.