Hyper-Pluralities for a New Becoming: The Exhibited Body in Contemporary Art

January 4, 2015 | Published Articles, Writing

Originally published by Artslant in January 2015.

“The body is always a body that is an unfinished entity.”

—Lisa Blackman, The Body (Key Concepts), Berg, 2008


“We have a whole history of representation in which the black body was not the privileged body,” Kerry James Marshall said in an interview a few years ago. “So there was no crisis of representation for me, because the black figure is underrepresented.” Marshall has patiently, and masterfully installed black figurative paintings in predominantly white institutions for his entire career; this past fall he had a solo show at David Zwirner Gallery in London—what Culture Type hailed as one of six must-see exhibitionsduring Frieze. He is not alone, however. The figure has been steadily inching its way back into popular focus, and not just any figure either—it’s the plurality of figures that challenges a single ideal of what a body should be.

In 2014 Kara Walker’s A Subtlety: or the Marvelous Sugar Baby drew some 130,000 viewers while installed at the now defunct Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn. Along with its installation came a wave of controversy inspired by the white public’s tendency to take suggestive and derogative selfies beside the 30-ton sugar sphinx’s vagina. (A related lecture will take place this February at the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality at the University of Chicago.) The body, and tension around racial identity in the US became an international priority as multiple cases of the police brutality captured media attention. One response came by way of Claudia Rankine’s 2014 book, Citizen. A finalist for the National Book Award, it carries an image of David Hammons’ In the Hood on its cover. “Even as your own weight insists / you are here,” Rankine writes, “fighting off / the weight of nonexistence. // And still this life parts your lids, you see / you seeing your extended hand…” Read more here.